Wellness Champion Spotlight: Hector Don

  • April 22, 2014

How one school keeps kids moving

At our 8th annual Principals Breakfast in March, HSC recognized wellness champions dedicated to creating healthier school environments. Wellness champions are important members of school-based wellness teams, which plan and implement initiatives in support of student health and help schools comply with local and national regulations. Today we’re spotlighting one wellness champion, Hector Don, a physical education (PE) teacher at Hamline Elementary School.

For Hamline Elementary School PE teacher Hector Don, it’s all about choices. Students do best, he says, when schools provide choices for them to engage in physical activity. In the decade that he’s been teaching at Hamline, choices for school sports have increased exponentially. Now there’s soccer, golf, track and field, cross country, dance, basketball, softball — even chess!

“Not everybody likes soccer,” he says.

Chess isn’t the only brain-stimulating activity that’s offered. All physical activity improves kids’ brain functions and helps them focus. But it’s not always easy to find time for physical movement. PE classes require lots of space for running and jumping, a resource that’s often in short supply. Don works with teachers to ensure kids are up and energized throughout the day. As a member of HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development program, he helps teachers integrate fitness into classroom learning.

“Fit to Learn is really helpful,” he says. “At least one teacher from every grade level has attended.” Fit to Learn encourages teachers to take a leadership role on health and wellness in their classrooms, creating a culture that motivates students and fellow staff to make healthy choices. Not only does physical activity lead to greater success in the classroom, it reinforces healthy habits that will benefit kids for a lifetime.

Hamline, located in Chicago’s Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood, serves about 600 students. And Don has no shortage of strategies to get all those kids in motion. One favorite? Students get a taste of round-the-world travel, without even leaving their classroom. At each “destination,” the teacher puts on the music of the country they’ve “landed” in (i.e., cumbia in Colombia). They learn a few steps plus some facts about the country, and then use math skills to calculate the “distance” to the next country on their list, where they’ll do it all again.

In PE class, nutrition lessons are a key part of the curriculum. Sometimes they’re all part of the same activity. For example, his students combine nutrition trivia with a relay race for one heart-pounding good time.

Teamwork isn’t just for sports, though. It takes a whole team to keep Hamline focused on health, and Don is proud to be part of his school’s wellness team. “We have a very dynamic group of parents that are constantly involved,” he says.

He also makes parent and community connections a priority, especially by encouraging healthy activities for parents such as Zumba and healthy cooking classes.

As Hamline principal Taina Velazquez-Drover says, “His dedication and vision for a healthy school is admirable.” With all these contributions to school wellness, it’s no wonder Don was nominated as an outstanding wellness champion.

Don says, “We want to do something positive, not just for the kids but for the community as a whole.”

Congratulations, Hector Don, for being recognized as an outstanding wellness champion!