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"Be Fit for Life," Says P.E. Teacher of the Year


Named best high school physical education teacher of 2000 by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, Dale Kephart uses fun and music to help kids get fit for life. Kephart, a former Olympic gymnast, shares her thoughts about physical education and physical fitness for life with Education World readers.

"I have always loved to teach," said Dale Kephart after being named best high school physical education teacher in the nation for the year 2000. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), a nonprofit organization of more than 20,000 professionals in the fitness and physical education fields, sponsored the award. Teaching physical education has been the perfect career choice for this former Olympic gymnast, now a grandmother.

Kephart isn't one of those gym class teachers standing on the sidelines, blowing a whistle while instructing the students. In fact, she doesn't even use a whistle. She uses music -- usually the kind that tends to get kids moving!

"I have always used music in my classes," Kephart said. "It is motivating. I try to use all types of music and especially pop tunes that are current -- but I have to choose songs with good language and that are positive and motivating. I use music for warm ups, cool downs, specific activities, and often just as a background."


As a high school student competing in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Kephart enjoyed physical education and admired her high school physical education teacher, Mary Sarver, at Highline High School in Seattle, Washington. "I wanted to be a physical education teacher like her so I could use my gymnastics specialty and dance background, teach many physical activities, and coach in the school system," Kephart told Education World.

Kephart isn't an average athlete. In addition to competing in the Olympics, she also competed in the 1962 and 1966 world gymnastics championships as a member of the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team. She was listed in the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Husky Hall of Fame in 1999 at the University of Washington.

Kephart's career includes a ten-year stint coaching gymnastics and 14 years teaching physical education. She coached gymnastics at both the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of California at Berkeley and taught in a school system near Seattle, Washington, before marrying a high school industrial arts teacher and moving to Alaska.


Kephart has been teaching physical education in the Anchorage School District since 1988. A new class required for graduation, Lifetime Personal Fitness, attracted Kephart to Dimond High School. "I wanted to be involved in piloting and teaching this important class in a high school setting," she explained. "We were interested in our high school students' exiting the school system knowing why physical activity and fitness is important to a healthy lifestyle and being able to set up safe programs and goals for themselves.

"Lessons are designed to target activity promoting health and fitness," Kephart added. "The goal in my physical education classes is to involve students in as much activity as possible so they are working on the six components of health-related fitness: cardio respiratory, body composition, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and stress management."

Her classes offer cooperative and competitive approaches. "Students like to compete against themselves and others," Kephart said. "We try to offer both."

"In my classes, during the practicing of activities, students can often choose skills and levels to practice within the class instead of every doing exactly the same activity everyone else is," Kephart noted. "Usually, different activities are set up around the gym. This allows students to practice what they need. Of course, students must reach a level of responsibility first and then they earn choice activities. They start with the class doing the same activities and then move to responsible individual choices."


Kephart wants kids to develop fitness programs that include a variety of traditional and nontraditional activities and also learn skills for a healthful life. In addition to introducing students to such things as the proper way to lift weights, Kephart teaches them about mental health, substance abuse, nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and sexuality.

Her love of dance has included classes in forms not usually taught in gym class -- such as ballet, jazz, hip-hop, line dance, creative dance, and multicultural dance. That is where music really plays an important role. Kephart describes this as lots of fun and very active.

Does she worry about the students who prefer soccer to ballet? Not really, she says, because her gym class offers some activity that interests them all. "Some students like music-based activities, and others like sport activities," she said. "That is why we try to provide it all."

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
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Updated 5/1/2002