The role of a teacher is one that has been heralded and applauded for decades. It’s not just the ones who come and help you at your desk, however, but the one who gets you out of it. 

UNM College of Education & Human Sciences (COEHS) faculty Karen Lux Gaudreault and Victoria N. Shiver, coordinators of the Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) program, are bringing that spotlight to physical educators. 

“Dr. Shiver and I have been passionate and committed to providing opportunities for children in under-resourced populations to get physical activity, behavioral health and wellness programing.  It's very, very important to both of us that we continue to work in that space and bring our passions here to New Mexico,” Gaudreault said. 

In research entitled The Impact of Mentoring Youth Placed At-Risk on the Socialization of Preservice Physical Educators, published in the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, Gaudreault and Shiver document the impact of an innovative program they started in Wyoming and is now being implemented in Albuquerque.  

“A lot of teacher candidates don't have that opportunity if they are not set up for it. In this, they taught those fitness lessons. They got added experience actually teaching,” Shiver said. ”They got to understand the importance of creating that one-on-one relationship. They prioritized making time not just for the large group, but on an individual basis, because each person is bringing their own specific perspective to the table and deserves to be treated as such, even if they're a child. They got the ability to know what an after school program looks like and how to set it up.”  

two kids on mini boards

The after school program (ASP), known as Healthy Pokes, was launched in Albany County (Laramie, WY), as a study for the benefits of ASPs, based in physical education, on both students and future teachers.  

“When done correctly in the way that the UNM PETE program trains and prepares P.E. teachers, the science is very clear that quality physical education improves children's academic performance, improves their health and overall well-being,” Gaudreault said. 

For three years, different waves of dozens of third through fifth grade students spent hours after school with undergraduate pre-service PE teachers. The children in the program were recruited by school teachers, nurses and counselors based on overall potential benefit and risk factors. 

“If they had kiddos in their practice that they saw, they would say ‘oh, my God, I have three kids that would be perfect for this program.’ They were the ones that knew the families that could speak to the parents and say there's this program that I think would be a really great opportunity,” Gaudreault said. 

Supervised by Gaudreault and Shiver, future physical educators engaged in interpersonal, focused activities with kids to promote healthy living and fun.  

“Health and wellness needs to be explicitly taught to students in a way that they understand, they deserve it. They have the right to know holistically how to take care of themselves,” Shiver said. “That can be done through movement and fun and games and creating strong relationships. Without that physical and mental health aspect, all the other categories are not going to be successful; so let's see how we can address those things and then grow from there.” 

This included, of course, physical activities based in cardio and games, but also guided movements and best practices for physical activity. 

“Activities were centered on some sort of FITT (frequency, intensity, time, type) principle or fitness concept, but it was learned through movement. All of those things were rooted in the physical best concepts, a guided practice within physical education to teach fitness concepts. After they did one or two physical activities to learn these skills with their mentors, they transitioned to nutrition,” Shiver said.  

There were those learning components tied in, to balance out movement. Kids were taught about the fitness concepts, strengths of their bodies, how they can best utilize it all. Students also got tips

two kids jump rope

when it came to healthy snacks and how to make and enjoy them. 

“We had parent involvement because we recognize the importance of the family. Kids are not the ones going to the grocery store. We had nights where we did family dinners where we had the kids bring their parents to campus and we showed them what they did [during the program],” Gaudreault said.  “The feedback from the parents was overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity. There were some parents that would say, ‘great, now I have to eat broccoli because my kid has been telling me that my diet is bad,’ but we found really positive responses.” 

The study revealed a multitude of benefits for all parties involved–students, parents, teachers and future teachers. 

“The kids enjoyed it very much, and it did result in changes. After their experience in Healthy Pokes, they were more confident and more knowledgeable about health enhancing behaviors. When you think about what effect this had on training teachers, it really shifted their compass and their philosophy about how they were going to behave. They learned in order to be a good teacher, they have to really understand these kids. That was really powerful for them,” Gaudreault said. 

It was incredibly special for each kid and their respective college student. The number of each involved made it so each could have in-depth one-on-one connections.  

“The kids were just pumped. They were so excited to get to the gym. Every day they would run in screaming, yelling, looking for their mentor. Kids that started coming continued coming, likely because of those relationships that they had developed. They loved their mentors and they really got attached at the hip to those mentors. They would show them off as their friends, super excited and proud,” Shiver said.  

While the kids themselves got an educator and mentor to look up to, the future physical educators got to understand their crucial relevance towards each child. 

“Teachers in training came away from this experience positively because they had these close and personal relationships with children. They told us over and over and over again just how important they believed a teacher was,” Gaudreault said. “They would say ‘when I get my job, I am going to do everything I can to learn about my students and what's going on in their lives.’ They realized the massive importance and the strong connection that comes between knowing these little people and their ability to teach them well.”  

The Healthy Pokes Program and this study showed a clear benefit for PETE-based ASPs, so what next? 

“It was kind of the jumping off point, which is now, you know, almost ten years later, is showing up in Albuquerque as Healthy Lobos. Healthy Pokes provided the groundwork for subsequent study and subsequent programing that Dr. Shiver has refined and improved and enhanced over the course of her professional career. The Healthy Lobos program work that Dr. Shiver is doing now emanated from this paper,” Gaudreault said.   

It just so happened after making this impactful ASP that both Gaudreault and Shiver would find each other again at UNM, and be able to restart it in the Land of Enchantment.  

“We've targeted elementary school spaces right now and are currently in an elementary school implementing a curriculum that I co-developed. Ethical learning integration through movement is our primary goal, and we do it in rotations two weeks at a time. We’re moving through a new concept every day, like self awareness and social interaction and responsible decision making, all learned through movement and transferred in outside settings,” Shiver said.  

The Healthy Lobos program, now funded by COEHS, currently takes place at Atrisco Elementary for fourth and fifth graders. It incorporates the after-school elements, physical activity as well as a new prioritization on social emotional learning. 

“We've come full circle. Nutrition cannot be successful without behavioral health, so it felt like that had to become the top priority. With that training over time into what we have now, in Healthy Lobos, we're much more centered on the social, emotional learning, health and capacities of youth,” Shiver said.  

While this version has fewer Lobos and elementary school students as of now, Shiver and Gaudreault hope expansion is ahead because they have truly proven ASPs focused on PETE work. 

“Quality physical education programming is absolutely critical to students' performance during the school day and their well-being. I believe that the physical education teacher can be the most important person in a school for that reason,” Gaudreault said. 

Donations to Healthy Lobos are readily being accepted, and can be directed to Shiver.