This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 3/7/05,
Page A1, main news/cover; Copyright 2005 by Beth David

Hitting her stride
Phys ed teacher wins statewide recognition

Standard-Times correspondent

NEW BEDFORD -- Physical education teacher Eunice Sirianos knows how important movement is -- not just physical movement, but also moving with the times.

It's a philosophy born out of necessity, and it earned her the 2005 Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year award from the Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

A graduate of Bridgewater State College with a bachelor of science degree, Ms. Sirianos started her New Bedford teaching career in 1986 as a "floating substitute" in physical education.

Then she worked full time at the Alfred J. Gomes Elementary School. Now she serves 1,000 students at the Gomes, William H. Taylor and Betsy B. Winslow schools.

She went from seeing her students several times a week to seeing them once every two weeks.

But the changes didn't cause her to despair, just to change her program. Her positive, can-do attitude has paid off, and not just for her students, but for the statewide recognition, as well.

"Once you're nominated, your name stays on for three years," said Barbi Kelley from the association. "This was her first year and she got it. That's how good she is. She was really pretty fantastic."

"I was very honored and humbled by it, because there are really a lot of great physical educators out there," Ms. Sirianos said. "To see notes from my former students to say I had an impact, that was neat."

The budget cuts have taken their toll on her chosen profession, but Ms. Sirianos tries to see the good side.

"I try to be thankful for what we have. It's been a significant change in the amount of physical education they receive," Ms. Sirianos said. "And it's been a tough ride, because I love what I do and I want the best for what I do and we've had to live with the budget cuts."

In a day-to-day way, the budget cuts mean that she teaches in three very different spaces, two of them cafeterias.

"But you make do with what you've got," she said. That means teaching "fitness, not exercise," because students don't get the 40 minutes three times a week that they need in school.

"I teach them how important it is to do it for themselves. Their mom can't do it for them. Their dad can't do it for them. They've got to care enough about themselves to do it for themselves."

She has seen a definite decline in fitness over her 20 years in the field. She said it's important for parents to get children involved in after-school activities that require movement.

"Regardless of gender, if they're being brought somewhere after school, they are definitely able to go through the physical education with more ease," she said. "They're not going to get fit doing this with me once every two weeks. You've got to make it a habit, just like brushing your teeth or your hair."

Ms. Sirianos stresses that her curriculum not only teaches movement, which she says is our "first language," but she also integrates academics.

For example, when students jump rope, they also take their pulses, count beats and multiply, to use their math skills. In basketball, they learn to shoot, and then learn how to figure out their percentages.

"I try to blend physical education with the needs of movement, the progression of movement with academic requirements," she said. Ms. Sirianos practices what she preaches. She does Pilates regularly, and coaches soccer and intramural basketball.

"I do the job and try to add a little extra here and there when I can," she said.

Which is also part of the criteria for the award.

"All the qualities we were looking for she had," Ms. Kelley said, adding that involvement in the community was also important. "From the letters, we could see that people respected her as a person. She was always there for the kids, not just in physical education, but for everything."

"I'm fortunate, my kids love my class," Ms. Sirianos said. "We have something they want and we're not giving them enough of it. (They love it) because kids love to move. It's our first language. A lot of our learning is grounded in our movement."

This story appeared on Page A1 of The Standard-Times on March 7, 2005.