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Oxford grad earns state award for PE

November 25, 2009 - To physical education teacher Megan McTaggart, gym class isn't just a chance for kids to run around, play dodgeball and climb the big rope.

It's also an opportunity to break down cultural and language barriers and help diverse groups of kids get to know each other in a fun setting.

For her efforts in this area, the 2002 Oxford High School graduate recently received the Susan J. Kolp Innovator of the Year award at the Michigan Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance's annual convention in Traverse City.

"It was a very humbling experience," McTaggart said. "There's so many phenomenal physical education teachers out there. It was an amazing honor for me."

McTaggart was honored for the work she did at Pearl Lean Elementary School in Warren during the 2008-09 school year.

Pearl Lean is the magnet school for the Warren Consolidated school district's English Language Learners (ELL) program, which is for students who speak very little or no English.

McTaggart helped create physical education classes through which the ELL kids could meet and interact with students from the school's other classes.

"We worked out this whole program of getting more of the ELL kids mainstreamed," she explained. "A gymnasium can be such a great outlet for kids. It's a very social place where they can get to know each other. Language doesn't really have to be a barrier at all."

The program helped ensure the ELL students "felt like they were part of the school community."

"They were in a different wing. We didn't want them to feel like they were segregated just because they were down there and had a hard time speaking English," McTaggart explained.

McTaggart was also honored for the multicultural activities she created and incorporated into her PE classes.

In the "around-the-world games unit" she wrote, she hung up a big world map in the gym and each week students would learn a game from another country that typically isn't played in the United States.

As part of the multicultural dance unit, students would learn dances from other countries and even make up their own moves.

"That was fun too because we have such a diverse population (at the school). Some kids knew some of the dances because they do them at weddings," McTaggart said.

This is McTaggart's third year teaching physical education. Her interest in the field began during her own school days here in Wildcat country.

"I was always active in sports at Oxford," she said. "They played a huge role in my life."

While attending OHS, McTaggart played basketball from 1999-2001 and ran track from 1999-2002.

She credited Lakeville Elementary Principal Kristy-Gibson-Marshal, who was her gym teacher in elementary school and high school, with influencing her career choice.

"I always kind of looked at her as a mentor. I always wanted to follow in her footsteps," McTaggart said. "She was such a great physical education teacher and great advocate for health and fitness."

Her line of work was also influenced by her father who started his career as a PE teacher.

"He's always been a very big role model for me," she said.

While some people may view PE classes as simply periods for kids to take a break from the books and play, McTaggart sees her work as an opportunity to teach kids about how their bodies work and help them develop lifelong health habits.

"I think with a quality program, it really can be a learning experience," she explained. "Not everybody likes math or science or sports, but everybody wants to be healthy. It's learning how to take care of yourself and forming these habits at an early age is really important for the rest of your life."

Given the high obesity rates in Michigan and around the country, McTaggart said it's important for kids to realize "you don't have to be an all-star athlete to have fun being active."

And contrary to traditional views, what goes on in the gym can and does help student performance in the classroom.

"There's so much research out there right now that links our learning, things like reading comprehension and memory, to body movements and motor skills," she noted.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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