LA PLATA, Md. – A recent afternoon at Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School found third graders in an intense game of battleship as their physical education (PE) teacher, Marty Margolis, observed — and at times joined in. Rather than focusing on the game board, two teams set up on either side of a barrier made of mats. Then they let loose a barrage of dodge balls in hopes of toppling the five oversized bowling pins (still draped in ghost costumes from Halloween) strategically placed on the other side.
When a student needed to catch a glimpse of the other side’s ship placement, they ran to a safe zone where they had a second or two to gauge coordinates by peering through an oversized pair of binoculars made up of two hula hoops. Laughter, cheers and groans of defeat pinged off the gym’s walls — it was chaotic in the most fun way. And keeping with the third-grade physical education curriculum it was designed to improve the overhand throwing abilities of the students.
Margolis has spent his entire 26-year teaching career at Mitchell, all as the PE teacher. He was recently honored by the Society of Health and Physical Educators of Maryland (SHAPE MD) as its Elementary School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. SHAPE MD is an organization that provides advocacy, resources and professional learning opportunities for current and future health and physical educators who teach students in prekindergarten through 12th grade.
As a student at Maurice J. McDonough High School, Margolis played football and was a state champion wrestler. And he knew he wanted to be a teacher. While studying at the University of Maryland College Park, Margolis was on track to becoming a high school math teacher. His interests shifted a bit and when the job as a PE teacher was offered to him at Mitchell, Margolis took it.
“Elementary age kids are so motivated to give it their all,” he said. “They love being active and it doesn’t take much to get them interested in something. It’s my job to help them to be able to get better at what they’re learning. I meet them at their confidence level and skill level, and we build on those.”
“Mr. Margolis is beloved at Mitchell Elementary,” Matt Golonka, content specialist for health and physical education for Charles County Public Schools (CCPS), said. “He has proven that he is the best at what he does. He has impacted the lives of his students for over 25 years in his own hometown.”
Mitchell Principal Nicholas Adam seconded Golonka’s words. “Mr. Margolis has established hundreds — possibly thousands — of positive relationships across all areas of the school community. He does this by smiling and being himself — friendly, kind, patient, loyal, and empathetic with his students, colleagues and families,” Adam said. “All of these traits allow him to foster positive relationships with peers and parents, and then in turn he becomes a role model for students.”
Teaching students from prekindergarten to fifth grade, Margolis can see a range of skills in a day. He can go from teaching a student how to skip to explaining how the cardiovascular system works. “I try to expose kids to as many different activities as I can,” Margolis said. “They can find out what they enjoy and become lifelong learners. You might have a kid who hates running, but they can run up and down a soccer field because it’s fun and they love soccer.”
Beyond physical health, PE teachers are committed to the mental wellbeing of their students. Mitchell partners with OmmWorks, a local organization that teaches socio-emotional practices which benefit students beyond the gym and classroom. Adam pointed out that Margolis can easily blend math and reading skills into PE lessons. “Students want to surpass his expectations because of the pride they develop in his room,” he said.
“Marty displays are how to build authentic connections with students. When a student believes that you truly care about them, they will work harder to meet your expectations.” Adam said. “Mr. Margolis begins making these connections with each student the moment they meet.”
“He focuses his lessons on developing skill and knowledge in a dynamic environment so that students are successful and feel confident as lifelong movers,” Golonka said.
To help with that goal, Margolis started a fitness club for Mitchell students after receiving a grant to purchase exercise equipment. Students meet before or after school to learn different exercises and proper form. They lift weights and take part in a workout. Margolis initially planned for 25, maybe 30 students to show interest when the club started a few years ago. This year, he expects about 200 students to join. Interest in the club is part of why Margolis enjoys what he does. “I’m grateful for the support of the administration, the content specialists, the whole Mitchell community — students, parents and the staff. I love working at Mitchell,” he said.
Margolis was recognized by SHAPE MD at its conference held earlier this month in Ocean City.
Margolis was joined at the conference by five CCPS physical education teachers who received the 2022 Simon A. McNeely Award. The award is presented to PE teachers with at least five years of professional experience for outstanding teaching and service in health and education. Jonel Barnes of Henry E. Lackey High School, Kristin Jones of Mattawoman Middle School, Seth Rak of the F.B. Gwynn Educational Center and Kellee Shoemaker of William B. Wade Elementary School received the McNeely award. Val Cheseldine, PE teacher at Eva Turner Elementary School, received the SHAPE MD Presidential Citation. Releases on staff members honored with the McNeely award and presidential citation will be published at a later date.