A game of catching and throwing, learning about stress management and archery have something in common. They are all taught by outstanding Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) health and PE teachers.
Four CCPS health and PE teachers recently were recognized by the Society of Health and Physical Educators of Maryland (SHAPE MD) for their outstanding teaching and service. The teachers are Alison Cheney, health and physical education (PE) teacher the at F.B. Gwynn Educational Center; Elaina Malone, health and PE teacher at John Hanson Middle School; Daniel Perrotta, health teacher at Thomas Stone High School; and Alyssa Wheeler, health and PE teacher at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School.
Every year, SHAPE MD selects health and PE teachers in Maryland for the Simon A. McNeely Award. Nominees must meet specific nomination criteria to be considered for the award. Criteria includes but is not exclusive to being actively involved in school and community affairs related to health, PE, recreation or dance; must be a current member of SHAPE MD or professional organization pertaining to field; and demonstrate outstanding teaching and service in health, PE, recreation or dance.
Hailing from upstate New York, Cheney, health and PE teacher at the Gwynn Center, knew from a young age that she wanted to help people in whatever career path she chose in the future. “I knew as a young person, I liked being active and I liked working with people,” Cheney said. As an adolescent she enjoyed teaching swim lessons for the American Red Cross and acting as a camp counselor at summer camps owned by the New York State Sheriff’s Association.
Cheney was a well-rounded athlete from a young age all the way through college. She started off playing soccer, swimming during the off season and then transitioned to women’s rugby in college. Her mom suggested she put her love for sports, hands-on activities and working with others together to pursue a career in health and physical education at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pa. “I checked out Slippery Rock’s outdoor education program and decided that it was the right fit,” she said.
After graduation, she started her career with CCPS at North Point High School as a PE teacher. She worked there for 14 years before transitioning into her current role at Gwynn. “[Ms. Cheney] not only has a very engaging PE class for all students but uses all parts of her day to support students and teachers,” principal of Gwynn Todd Wonderling, said. After graduating from Slippery Rock, Cheney obtained her master’s in physical education from Canisius University in Buffalo, N.y.
Since high school Cheney has been involved in some kind of coaching opportunity. She has coached high school varsity boys and girls swim, and at North Point, she was the head coach of Unified track and field after finding an interest in the Special Olympics in college. She also worked with the boys basketball and cross-country teams at North Point focusing on mindfulness and yoga. Her enjoyment for the social aspect and everyday life skills that come with being a health and PE teacher and coach keeps her motivated on the job. “Everybody has a body, you can learn to be healthy as an individual in these classes,” she said. “There is a place for everybody in movement and health.”
For some educators, a teaching career is an afterthought that becomes a reality, while others dream of the profession from even the youngest of ages. “I used to play school with my younger siblings,” Malone, health and PE teacher at Hanson, said. She said that she has always had a love for school, so becoming a teacher was no surprise. “My mom said that I was ready to go to school at young age,” Malone said. “I enjoyed school and had great teachers going through school.”
Malone is entering her seventh year at Hanson as a health and PE teacher after journeying to the school shortly after graduating from college. She started her career as a substitute teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools, became a math and science teacher in Calvert County Public Schools and eventually made her way to Charles County teaching at Hanson. “Elaina Malone is always willing to help out in a variety of ways at the school,” Hanson principal Benjamin Kohlhorst said. “She is the related arts department chair at Hanson, the head coach for girls track, started the PBIS Open Gym initiative, promotes health and wellness throughout the building, and assists with morning check-in with the buses and car riders at dismissal.”
Malone grew up in Calvert County and obtained her degree in health in PE from Towson University. After running track and field from middle school to college herself, she now coaches the sport at Hanson, with seventh grade bringing in first place in a middle school competition for the school last year. “[She is] very student centered, well planned and has great lessons designed to engage, challenge and support all students,” Kohlhorst said.
The impact of a teacher can influence a student for the rest of their life. This was the case for Thomas Stone health teacher Daniel Perrotta. He was a student who was impacted by a former PE teacher which became one of the few motivating factors that led him to where he is today. “Growing up, I was the kid who was not as athletic and because of that I was not shown that much attention or pushed to be better by my PE teacher,” he said. Perrotta has been in the health and PE field of education for over 12 years. “I wanted to be the teacher that I did not have – seeking out the quietest kid in the room. Everybody is equal and uniqueness is what makes you so special.”
With nearly 26 years of experience in the field of education, Perrotta has learned how to adapt and adjust to opportunities. His interest in education started at an early age working at the Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation at 13 years old where he developed an interest in teaching kids. His interest carried him all the way to Frostburg State University where he developed a love for physical education. “I hung out with the athletes and when they told me they were majoring in recreation or PE, I took a few classes and instantly fell in love with the material,” Perrotta said.
After college he started his career in health and PE at the middle and elementary school level in Montgomery County. He remained in that role for about 12 years before he became an assistant principal and a principal for eight years. He was an interim Head of School at Grace Christian Academy of Waldorf for a few months. After his administrative roles ceased, he found himself accepting a job back in the health and PE field teaching at Stone. He is now a full-time health teacher at the school. “Mr. Perrotta positively impacts the school community by fostering a welcoming class environment in a student-centered atmosphere where students feel comfortable expressing themselves, sharing thoughts, and learning from one another,” Shanif Pearl, principal at Stone said. “Mr. Perrotta employs teaching strategies that cater to various learning styles ensuring that all students feel included in the learning process. Mr. Perrotta’s health lessons extend to encourage diversity and understanding among students.”
“I like to treat my classroom like an office,” Perrotta said. Students can come by his classroom if they are having a tough day, for advice or just to escape from their normal day. “I try to love on them and meet them where they are,” he said.
He has also served as the boys lacrosse coach at Stone, assisted with developing health and PE content, is a member of the family life/human sexuality committee and even the unofficial announcer at games at the school.
“Mr. Perrotta stands out among others for his passion and genuine enthusiasm for teaching and coaching at Stone,” Pearl said. Mr. Perrotta is flexible in adjusting teaching approaches, embraces technology, and interactive activities to keep students interested in the learning experience.”
After attending CCPS as a student Wheeler returned as a PE teacher at Higdon. She is a Charles County native, having attended Dr. James Craik Elementary School, Matthew Henson Middle School and Maurice J. McDonough High School before attending Salisbury University for her undergraduate degree.
Wheeler has taught in the county for nearly 13 years. “I started in elementary at William B. Wade Elementary School, tinkered in middle school and eventually made my way back to teach the elementary level,” she said. “I feel like elementary is more like my home.” Wheeler knew going into college that teaching was a profession that she wanted to pursue. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Wheeler said. “My athletic history just gave me a nudge to become a PE teacher specifically.” Her athletic career started at a young age playing softball around four years old and volleyball on the high school level.
“In the heart of Dr. Higdon School, Mrs. Wheeler stands as a shining example of the positive impact an educator can have on both students and the school community,” Higdon principal Shannon Finnegan, Ed.D., said. “Her unwavering commitment to fostering a nurturing environment has transformed the educational experience for those under her guidance.” Wheeler has many other roles in the school, one being the All Kids Bike program coordinator, a program for kindergarten students to learn how to ride a bike. In her former PE teacher role at William A. Diggs Elementary School, Wheeler along with Kellee Shoemaker, PE teacher at William B. Wade Elementary School helped pilot the program in the county. “This year we are doing a spring bike night. I like this kind of event where we can bring in the community.”