Karen Petermann, physical education teacher at Rexford/Longfellow Elementary, has been named a 2014 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellow.
Petermann joins 99 other teachers from around the state to receive the award this year.
As part of the recognition, each Fellow receives $1,000 and their school also receives a $1,000 grant.
The educator nomination process begins within each public school district, or nonpublic school organization. Further screening takes place at the regional level, and the statewide selection committee chooses the award recipients.
Educators are chosen for their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students and ability to motivate others, and for their leadership and service within and outside the classroom.
Petermann was nominated for the award by former teacher Craig Akey. Petermann has taught physical education and health classes in Clintonville for 27 years at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
“I was very excited to be nominated for this award, but at the same time, I know lots of other teachers who are equally deserving,” said Petermann. “We have a school full of wonderful, dynamic teachers who all try to help kids achieve their full potential.”
Petermann said the grant money that comes with the award will be used partially for the Running Club to purchase more reflective vests, and partially for the physical education classes to purchase heart rate monitors.
“Technology is the big thing for us right now,” said Petermann. “We were recently able to purchase six iPad minis through a $3,000 grant from the Clintonville Area Foundation. It all adds up to better learning opportunities in our physical education classes.”
Petermann said she is happy that the award will help support the students who give her so much energy on a daily basis.
“I have energy to teach because the kids have energy to learn,” she said. “I just love my job, and I love these kids. If I can find ways to make kids feel important and let them know they’re valuable, they’ll work hard and give you their best effort in class.”
Petermann said she works hard to reach all students, and said that the PEP Grant received by the district in 2002 gave a big boost to her efforts.
“The PEP Grant helped transform our physical education from solely team sports to a wide range of lifetime fitness activities that reach all of the kids in school, not just the ones who enjoy team sports,” she explained. “We want kids to find a handful of things they enjoy doing, with the hope that they will continue to do those activities for the rest of their lives. When this happens, the kids achieve healthier lifestyles.”
Healthy lifestyles are an urgent issue for Petermann, who noted that kids aren’t as fit as they should be.
“For the first time in history, this generation is projected to have a shorter life span than their parents,” she said. “Getting kids involved in lifetime activities can help turn that around.”
One example of Petermann’s success in guiding kids to better fitness can be found in the Running Club, which she organized three years ago.
“We started small but it is transforming the community and the kids,” said Petermann. “I’ve had so many happy moments in my career, but this is my passion right now. The Running Club is helping kids build a healthy lifestyle, and they are also becoming leaders. These kids are not just learning about exercise, they’re becoming good citizens. They’re learning to put other kids ahead of themselves. They’re the next generation of difference makers.”
Petermann said there just isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything she’d like to do.
“I teach nine classes in a day and it’s challenging to be just as enthusiastic and motivational for class number 8 and 9 as I am for the classes at the start of the day,” explained Petermann. “Teaching elementary Physical Education requires a lot of energy!
“We have so many teachers who come in on the weekends to get stuff done because there just isn’t enough time in the week days,” she said. “There are also a lot of volunteers who help make programs a success and help us achieve much more than we could by ourselves.”
Along with her co-workers and a host of community volunteers, Petermann said she owes a debt of gratitude to her mother.
“My mom was my physical education teacher,” explained Petermann. “She taught ahead of her time. She always wanted to include girls in sports, even in those days before Title IX. She included students needing special services before the term ‘inclusion’ came along. She promoted lifetime fitness while team sports were the norm. In addition, she set high expectations and always sought the good in everything.
“Her style has become my own. It’s been a good way to teach. I try to teach kids the way we raised our own kids and it’s worked pretty well,” continued Petermann, who is married to Bob Petermann. Bob also teaches physical education in Clintonville. He and Karen have raised three children: Megan, Kyle and Tyler. “Bob and the kids are very patient with me and I am thankful that they are so supportive of my ambitions. They offer great insight and help keep everything in perspective. Our family is very close and we are very supportive of each other. Bob and the kids have supported all of my school-related efforts that take time away from them after school and on weekends, or when I’m working on grants. Their support is incredible. It has allowed me to provide a lot of the ‘extras’ that I enjoy doing outside of my teaching and that mean a lot to my kids at school.”