Lake Grove Elementary’s Dana Henry describes herself as a “facilitator” rather than a teacher.
A couple of weeks ago, Henry, a physical education teacher wrapping up her 21st year in Federal Way and 24th as an educator, “facilitated” a Jump Rope for Heart event. With music blaring and Henry speaking into a headset, she led her young scholars through a variety of jump roping activities, occasionally swinging the ropes for group jumps, motivating and encouraging them when they occasionally messed up.
To help her with the task, Henry had three former students, sisters Lily and Elaine Trang and Christina Bell-Robinson, all adults now, help lead the event, with Lily Trang taking a moment to show off some of her old jump-roping tricks she learned as a youth. The three women were all part of a jump-roping club and team Henry facilitated when Elaine Trang approached Henry as a child and asked her about forming a jump-roping club at the school.
“The funny part is, I can’t jump rope,” Henry said, adding she never mastered the skill and her knees prevent her from participating in the activity now.
Just as she facilitated the Jump Rope for Heart event recently, Henry, who didn’t want to disappoint Trang as a girl, learned all she could about jump roping, tournaments and competition judging, so she could coach her girls.
“It really challenged me to grow as a teacher,” Henry said.
Before she knew it, the jump-roping club became a team and gained so much popularity that the club numbers swelled.
“I guess I didn’t really realize it at the time how much work she had to put in,” Lily Trang, Elaine’s younger sister, said.
After coaching the team for a number of years, Henry eventually had to disband the team, which joined with another at a school in Tacoma.
But Henry’s commitment to her students did not end there, nor has her overall goal changed.
“I try to help kids love moving,” she said.
As a physical education teacher, Henry said a big part of her job is teaching her students that everyone is going to mess up sometimes, and not everybody is going to be good at the same activity. The key, she said, is to keep them motivated and to not give up.
“We use the word ‘yet’ a lot,” Henry said. “A lot of kids come in and say, ‘I can’t do this,’ and then we say ‘yet.’ ”
So, when a student who is struggling with jump roping or another physical activity, comes up to her discouraged, she employs that catch word to re-establish a positive attitude.
“If you say yet, then you leave the door open for room to try,” Henry said.
This is important because not every student is naturally athletic and some do not come from households where physical activity and good nutritional habits are regularly practiced.
Still, Henry said, it is important for her students to feel engaged and think about exercise and establishing good health habits in a positive way. As a teacher, Henry said, it is up to her to recognize her students’ strengths, what they enjoy and build from there.
“You kind of meet ‘em where they are,” she said.
Through the years, physical education has become more than just rounding up students to play a game of dodge ball or touch football. Now the focus is on “physical literacy,” Henry said.
She said physical literacy is a concept that focuses on not only getting students to move, but teaching them how to move and what movement to use by practicing different skills and techniques in a variety of activities, while keeping a positive attitude.
Often, Henry said, her students don’t realize that when they are swinging a tennis racket, they are using the same techniques they learned in field hockey. And when they start a class by juggling, they may not recognize they are practicing the same hand-eye coordination needed for jump roping. That makes it fun for Henry, as well, because she can tailor her classes to activities and sports with which she is familiar and knows her students will like.
“It’s open enough so you can make it make sense for your community, while your kids are still getting the same skill sets, which is cool. I love that,” Henry said.
Still, even though Lake Grove Elementary dedicates a generous amount of time — 75 minutes a week — to physical education class, Henry said she knows it still is not enough.
“Even though I’m on the higher end, my kids still don’t get enough P.E.,” she said.
So, Henry said the only logical solution was to extend the day by facilitating a variety of after-school activities, including a cooking class, flag-football games and a running club, that she or other teachers lead.
“I can’t do it by myself,” Henry said.
Because she describes herself as a facilitator, Henry said she was both flattered and embarrassed when she received the 2017 Let’s Move! Active Schools Outstanding Physical Activity Leader Award at the SHAPE America national convention, March 16, for her efforts.
She said her success comes in large part because of the commitment of the Lake Grove staff to help create a culture where physical activity and health is important.
“Our teachers at this school are amazing,” she said.