Chris Fisher handed out pink streamers to a gym full of kindergartners last week at Bozeman’s Hyalite School and soon had them twirling, sliding, hopping, skipping and galloping around the floor.
“Can you tell your hearts are beating a little faster?” Fisher asked the delighted 5-year-olds.
Keeping kids active is a passion for Fisher, a health enhancement teacher at Hyalite School.
“One of the biggest things I do is try to get them hooked on moving,” she said.
Fisher, 59, was named this summer the state’s elementary health enhancement teacher of the year by the Montana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
Hyalite Principal Mike Van Vuren told the Bozeman School Board that Fisher is passionate and dedicated. He said Fisher had found a creative way to pay for busing Hyalite’s older students to Bohart Ranch this winter for a day of cross-country skiing and outdoor education.
At a time when the news is full of stories about American kids getting fat and lazy, Fisher’s efforts are “outstanding,” School Board Trustee Ed Churchill said.
Fisher said the award recognizes that she has been working hard “trying to help the profession move forward, because I believe strongly in that. A lot of people don’t understand that health enhancement is a curriculum. It’s not just rolling out the ball.”
Health teachers also educate children about anatomy and how the body works, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and the importance of fitness, healthy eating and moving.
In 2002, Fisher organized a state convention for hundreds of health enhancement teachers. In 2009, she won a federal grant through the Team Nutrition program at Montana State University to run a Healthy Habits Challenge at five schools. Students could win jump ropes, footballs and other prizes by adopting one healthy habit a week, like eating fish, drinking milk or taking a hike.
Montana used to be better than the rest of the nation when it came to the obesity epidemic, she said, but now we’re catching up. She blamed unhealthy habits, like eating fewer meals at home together, consuming too much sugar and sugary drinks, and being inactive.
She recently asked kids what they were looking forward to, and they said things like going home to play Nintendo. That concerns her because that keeps kids indoors and inactive. “Hyalite’s motto is ‘No child left inside,’” she said.
So she does things like getting parents’ help to buy snowshoes for the entire school.
Fisher said she knew since high school, when she had a wonderful field hockey coach, that she wanted to teach physical education. She grew up in Virginia and Maryland, but in the 1970s moved to Montana to get away from “all the asphalt.”
Fisher and her husband once owned the Grape Expectations wine shop and deli downtown. She has taught swimming and physical fitness to students of every age, from kindergarten through college, and has been a public school teacher for 13 years.
This year has been challenging for Fisher. In April, she underwent surgery for breast cancer. She told her students a little, that she would have to leave school for a while, that treatment would make her very sick and make her hair fall out. But now she’s back and getting kids moving once more.
“I’m doing OK,” Fisher said. “You become a different person. You look at life differently, what’s important to you. Something positive did come out of it. You meet some amazing people. The caring that’s out there is amazing. You learn a lot about yourself.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.