A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lee County health teacher named SHAPE America National Health Education Teacher of the Year

By Jacob Perkins
Kentucky Teacher

Jessica Napier, alongside friends and family, waited to hear if she would be named the 2020 SHAPE America National Health Education Teacher of the Year during the May 5 virtual ceremony.

The awards ceremony originally was scheduled to take place in Salt Lake City, but due to the COVID-19 emergency, plans had to be altered. While this is an unprecedented and uncertain time in the lives of individuals worldwide, the change of plans did allow Napier’s friends and family to be there when her name was announced as the winner.

“This award means way more to me than I ever expected and I didn’t realize that until my name was announced,” said Napier. “In that moment, I was overcome with gratitude for every single person who has poured time, love and energy into my life. I feel like this award is a way for me to say ‘Thank you’ to them, and to be able to do that in this way means the world to me.”

Napier is the middle and high school health education teacher for Lee County Schools and has taught health education for 18 years. In 2019, she was named Kentucky’s Health Education Teacher of the Year. She then competed against 12 other state Health Education Teachers of the Year before being named the SHAPE America Southern District Teacher of the Year in November 2019. Upon winning that honor, she became eligible to compete for the national award.

“The process for the national award was quite extensive,” said Napier. “(Judges) reviewed my district application and there was a timeline across the span of a few months during which I gathered a few documents, recorded and sent in a lesson. Then there was a 30-minute interview with a panel of health education professionals. That process was concluded in February and I was announced as the winner on May 5.”

Napier was an inaugural member of the KYSHAPE Health Education Cadre and also served as a member of the revision committee for the Kentucky Academic Standards for Health Education. She is a member of the Kentucky Healthy Schools Coalition that is working to improve advocacy and state policy for improving student health outcomes in Kentucky. She is the current KYSHAPE vice-president elect for health education.

Though her schedule may be full, Napier found innovative ways to reach her students during the extended period of non-traditional instruction (NTI) due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Health education can be implemented just as any other core subject,” said Napier. “I have really focused on mental health and physical activity and have used many resources on the KYSHAPE and SHAPE America websites.”

She used Google Classroom to assign daily journal activities that included a health-enhancing behavior checklist, a skills-based health education writing prompt and a check-in corner where she asked her students how they were feeling that day and if she can help them with anything.

Along with the journal assignment, she included workout videos or printouts from various sources and recorded a weekly message to them that she calls “PE Pep Talks.”

“Academically I’ve received about an 80% completion of assignments,” said Napier. “We have had obstacles such as reliable internet connectivity and communication. We have managed by utilizing paper take-home packets and drop-off points throughout our community. Students have voiced many times that they would much rather be in school with their friends and teachers for socialization and help.

“I have worried about their emotional health, which is why I placed a check-in corner on their assignments. Geographically in our part of the state people are isolated in general because of the mountains and lack of social opportunities. So school is the major socialization for most of our students. When that is taken away … isolation and mental health issues can creep in. Many students have written on their check-in corner that they really miss their friends but have been grateful that we have encouraged them to reach out to their family and teachers when needed.”

Napier said that she is very adaptive and flexible and throughout her 18 years in education, she has been up for any challenge. But, she does admit, extended school building closures were an obstacle that she has never experienced nor could have had any expectations for.

“The hardest part by far has been not being with my students,” she said. “Being in a classroom of 30-plus teenagers is what I love to do. We have some great conversations; I get to know them in a different way than parents or friends. I really miss being able to look into their eyes and pick up on the things that they are not saying.”

Napier was disappointed that she did not get to celebrate this award with her students since they played a key role in the process by allowing her to record them for the lesson that she submitted. And even though she has been able to utilize resources provided by KYSHAPE and SHAPE America to implement NTI during this crisis, Napier will be more than ready for in-person classes to resume – whenever that may be.

“I have definitely learned that distance learning is not what is best for our students,” she said.” Nothing can replace the face-to-face relationship aspect of teaching and learning.”

This story first appeared in Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.

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