Gym teacher goes above, beyond to get students fit

Joni Lawler wins Jefferson Award

INDIANAPOLIS - A gym teacher who goes above and beyond to help students get fit is the recipient of a Jefferson Award.

Joni Lawler gets children moving. In her 18 years as a physical education teacher, she knows how to make fitness fun.

"A lot of times, they think they just have to be sweating and really working hard, but that's not necessarily the case," Lawler said. "If you're just up and active, having fun, that's good."

Buying the equipment needed for gym class would have been quite expensive, and budget cuts in education could have brought it all to a halt, but Lawler is a go-getter.

"If I need anything or want anything, then I'm going to have to go out and find a way to get it," she said.

She got a lot of biking equipment by applying for grants for video game cycles and scooters.

"I wrote a grant to General Mills and I got $10,000 for that," Lawler said.

She also got grants for fishing poles so she could teach her students to fish. Some of her fifth grade students walked with the masses at the Mini Marathon a few years ago, thanks to a grant that got them tennis shoes to go along with weeks of training from Lawler.

"It was just a real novel experience for our kids. They'd never walked that far. They'd never trained for anything in their lives," she said.

Garden City Elementary School serves many students from low-income families. With bikes and much more, Lawler puts them on track for success.

"If you can ride a bike, if you can skip, you're probably going to be a better reader, because it's crossing your midline and using both sides of your brain," she said. "We need for kids to do that so they can enhance their academic skills, as well as their physical skills."

Lawler said it's worth the effort.

"It's nice when I get ready to teach something, I have one for every student, so everybody is busy and they're active, and I have fewer behavior problems and the kids learn more," she said.

Lawler also has personal relationships with her students.

"I like going to where they live, because then I get to know their families, and by knowing the families, then you build that rapport, and it just goes a long way with what you do at school," Lawler said.

It also gets the children active on their turf. When it comes to wellness, summer is no time to take a break.

"That's what I tell them. Their homework assignment for the summer is just to go outside every single day. Do something, even if it's a walk or to play with a friend or go to the park," she said.

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