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EPS Teachers Earn Middle School Phys. Ed. Teacher of the Year, Physical Activity Champion Awards from NJAHPERD

Elizabeth, N.J., February 18, 2021 – Elizabeth Public Schools physical education teachers Belinda Jimenez and Jairo Labrador were awarded the Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award and the Physical Activity Champion Award respectively by the New Jersey Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (NJAHPERD).

The association presents awards that cover distinctive contributions to the health, physical education, recreation, and dance fields among its membership from throughout the state at the NJAHPERD Annual Convention Awards Banquet. Current members have the privilege of submitting nominations, including self-nominations, for each award offered by the Association. Jimenez and Labrador both were nominated by JoAnn Doherty, who served as NJAPHERD President from 2013 through 2015.

The criteria for Teacher of the Year Awards include a minimum of five years teaching experience in a grade level and discipline, conducting a quality program as reflected in NJ Student Learning Standards and SHAPE America Standards for K-12 programs, utilizing various teaching methodologies and planning innovative learning experiences to meet the needs of all students, and serving as a positive role model in epitomizing personal health and fitness, enjoyment of activity, sportsmanship, and sensitivity to the needs of students among others.

Jimenez, a physical education teacher at Terence C. Reilly School No. 7, has been part of the Elizabeth Public Schools physical education department for the past 10 years. She helps promote nutrition and healthy eating through the operation of “heART of Healthy Eating” program with funds raised through the American Heart Association and our local YMCA. Students, parents, teachers, local restaurant chefs, the district’s culinary arts department, and registered dieticians all collaborate in preparing healthy meals with a hands-on, project-based learning approach.

During the pandemic, Jimenez has conducted interactive bilingual meal prep lessons through live remote learning sessions with her students and their families. She has also worked during the pandemic to help procure free yoga, meditation, and remote group counseling sessions to help sustain mental and physical health initiatives within her learning community.

The Middle School Teacher of the Year Award earned by Jimenez is the first that has been presented to an Elizabeth Public Schools teacher since Hattie Vanderbeek in 1984.

Recipients of the Physical Activity Champion Award are recognized for outstanding achievement in promoting quality physical activity within schools, communities or the state. Honorees must either demonstrate leadership in the development and integration of innovative and effective physical activity programming; provide access to facilities that support increased engagement opportunities in quality physical activity for staff, students, families, or individuals; support and promote “community service” events that exemplify quality physical activity; or be an active role model that demonstrates participation in daily, quality physical activity.

Labrador, who coached on the national stage at the 2019 Little League World Series as manager of Elizabeth’s Mid-Atlantic Region Champion Elmora Troopers, is also a physical education teacher at School No. 7 who has used his talents as a team builder and motivator to help design an innovative and comprehensive physical education program with a family atmosphere. The annual “heART of Healthy Cooking” event and competition was a concept that he developed and operated among others, such as Family Zumba Nights, to encourage healthy eating, physical activity, and wellness.

The Physical Activity Champion Award that Labrador has received for 2021 has been given to two other Elizabeth Public Schools staff members since 2014, including current Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Dr. Jennifer Cedeño and Supervisor of Physical Education, Health, and Safety Joseph Przytula.

“Developing the physical, mental, and social-emotional health of our students is so important in preparing them for academic, professional, and everyday life success.” said Elizabeth Public Schools Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer. “Belinda Jimenez and Jairo Labrador have long provided excellent health and physical education instruction and are both very deserving of their individual awards. We are proud of them and the great work they continue to do with our district’s families to promote lifelong health and wellness.”

Both educators were valuable contributors to School No. 7 being one of two schools in the United States in 2013 to receive Gold Status from the Alliance for A Healthier Generation as part of the Healthy Schools program. They also have combined over many years to equip Elizabeth Public Schools students with the tools and knowledge necessary to help live long, healthy lives.

“Childhood obesity is an epidemic that disproportionately affects children of color and low-income families,” said Elizabeth Board of Education President Jerry Jacobs. “Physical activity and good nutrition are important for people in all communities but are especially vital in urban communities like Elizabeth. I congratulate Ms. Jimenez and Mr. Labrador for their respective outstanding achievements and commend them for the wonderful work they are doing with the students and families of School No. 7. I hope their students make those health lessons and practices a daily part of their lives both now and as they advance to adulthood.”