Thanks to her overwhelming dedication to her students and her profession, Ellen Quantmeyer, Johnston Senior High School’s Physical Education and Health Teacher, has been named the district’s Teacher of the Year.
“This is a really big accomplishment and I know it’s something that I’m proud of and that she is proud of,” said Dennis Morrel, principal at the high school, who nominated Quantmeyer for the award. “I am so proud that she is on my staff.”
Each year, the district’s principals and administrators meet in early spring to present their nominees for the prestigious award. The principals then advocate for their nominee, who they believe would best represent Johnston at the state level. Those administrators then selected the winner. According to Morrell, there was some very stiff competition this year with extremely qualified names being put forth.
In his letter addressed to Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr., Morrell provided an outline of the tremendous effort Quantmeyer has put forth for students during her 27-year career in Johnston. Since joining the high school faculty in 2007, not only has she been a member of the health department, she has been a coach and mentor to many.
Described as “enthusiastic about her curriculum” and constantly “searching for activities and strategies to further engage her students,” Quantmeyer approached Morrell last year to develop and implement a new “Mindfulness” course at the school. The aim of the new endeavor was to support the social and emotional learning of both students and faculty at the school.
“Ellen was nominated because of her work with the new program that she created here at the high school. We’re focusing on emotional learning and emotional health, and she’s gone above and beyond for our students,” said Morrell.
The principal explained that the Mindfulness program was built from scratch and that Quantmeyer researched the tenants of social-emotional learning and used the data to form her curriculum. She budgeted money, raised funds and has been provided with mini-grants to build a course that teaches students how to develop healthy habits for their mind and body. Quantmeyer also worked to bring in diverse elements into the course, such as guest speakers, yoga, field trips and expert practitioners.
“It’s more about living in the moment, living in the present moment, being aware of your surroundings, your bodily sensations, your thoughts and your emotions,” said Quantmeyer. “What I’ve tried to teach the kids about is to understand what their nervous system is telling them about their present situation, and to teach them how to handle it and what to do with it.”
Quantmeyer explained that there’s many benefits with the Mindfulness course, including improving a person’s well being, happiness, focus, blood pressure, physical health and more. She also teaches students about compassion, empathy, stress and relationships.
The class was offered to seniors this year and was not an elective class but served as their health and physical education component. She also plans to share her experiences with the district to implement similar programs at the elementary and middle school level.
“We have a program here that we’re trying to assist students who have anxiety issues, or school phobias, and I’m working with Ellen to work with those kids to develop appropriate strategies,” said Morrell of expanding the program next year.
Mental health issues have come to the forefront of education this year. Both Morrell and Quantmeyer acknowledged that increased pressure from social media, the Internet, technology, school shootings and more have significantly added to the stressors children face every day.
“I was in my Mindfulness class when there was a recent incident. My kids, you could just see the looks on their faces, and I told them to take a breath and use their breathing techniques. They asked if it was okay to talk about it, and I told them that it’s okay to talk about it and to get their feelings out,” said Quantmeyer. “It was extremely beneficial for them.”
Morrell added, “This is what I envision. I want to see this connection between teachers and kids, and I think every kid needs to be connected to an adult somehow, and Ellen’s idea is another way for us to connect with our kids.”
Superintendent DiLullo was quick to praise Quantmeyer’s efforts and the direction she is taking in serving the students’ needs.
“I am proud of this year's Johnston Teacher of the Year. Ellen has been a dedicated physical education teacher who emphasizes the importance of a healthy body and mind. Ellen goes above and beyond the expectation of her job to offer innovative classes and experiences for all students,” he said. “She connects to her students and they find her very approachable. Ellen was a clear choice as our nominee as she exemplifies the meaning of a dedicated teacher.”