“On the red line,” said Deb Hart, physical education coach at Arnold Elementary.
Five children shuffled back into place and eagerly awaited their turn. The excitement proved too much. Within seconds, the line once again developed a curve.
“On the red line,” Hart said.
Hart is patient with the children. She has been the primary physical education instructor at Arnold for 29 years. Chances are she had half of her students’ parents in her class.
This is one of Hart’s favorite aspects of her job.
“One of Arnold’s fifth-grade teachers used to be one of my students, and so was our school resource officer,” Hart said. “Seeing students when they are older is one of the best things.”
Sometimes students complain about the self-proclaimed “demanding” coach. Hart said she expects students to arrive and do the best they can. Children are judged based on their own individual physical capacities.
Complaining children often receive unpleasant news at home.
“Most of the parents will respond to their kid’s complaining by telling them they had to do it, as well,” Hart said.
Generations of Cleveland’s children have taken Hart’s classes. The focus of physical education has shifted throughout this time. Hart said more emphasis is now placed on fitness in lieu of sports skills.
The change is in response to childhood obesity. Class time is managed by Hart to be fun while meeting state requirements.
A good chunk of physical fitness requirements are met through half-mile and mile runs.
Hart estimated her students have collectively run more than 3,000 miles this year. Last year, the students ran well over 12,000 miles. At this rate, they may beat last year’s total.
“The kids run or walk a mile every time they come to class,” Hart said. “When they get five miles they receive a foot token. I keep up with every student’s miles.”
The foot token is placed on a string necklace. Some students save up their tokens each year. A school official once joked these students look like Olympic multimedalist Michael Phelps walking through the halls.
Eighteen laps around the gym at Arnold Elementary equals one mile. Students are not required to jog the entire time.
“The older kids will run three laps and walk one, run two and walk one, and run one and walk one. Then we do it all over again,” Hart said.
Tokens in the shape of a thumbs-up means a student has jogged for 10 minutes straight. Thumbs-up tokens are recognized throughout the school. Ten minute challenges do not occur as often as the mile and half-mile jogs.
Older students have a running companion in Hart. She clocks in her miles with the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders before lunch.
“Every now and then I will give them a break,” Hart said. “Not much, because when I do they ask, ‘Aren’t we running, Ms. Hart? Why aren’t we running, Ms. Hart?”
Hart said the jogs and 10 minute challenges allow students to test their capabilites.
“I have a lot of kids who were good in sports over at Cleveland, and it is nice to see they have done well. On occasion, I will get one to tell me thank you for helping them,” Hart said. “It is a very rewarding job.”
Elementary students who get a taste of jogging in Hart’s class often continue through middle and high school.
“One boy in particular comes to mind. He used to get so frustrated because he could not play basketball,” Hart said. “When we did the Presidential Fitness test he ran a 7-minute mile. He was the fastest kid in his class.”
A big ‘to do’ was made about the boy’s running time. He went on to jog cross country throughout the rest of his school career.
“Sometimes, kids do not know what they are capable of doing until they are pushed to find out,” Hart said.
An important component of the students’ physical education is taught by Danny Carson. He helps Hart out in the morning.
“He does a stretching regimen with the kids we would otherwise have to pay money for,” Hart said. It is very intense stretching for 15 to 20 minutes. He is a baseball coach at Cleveland High School and does the same stretching exercises with his players.”
“He is excellent. I am very fortunate to have his help.”
Hart has nothing but high praise for her fellow faculty members.
“They work so hard. They are relentless, and they are good and passionate about what they do,” Hart said.
This is the pot praising the kettle, as Hart is equally as passionate about her task of teaching physical education. Her students learn everything from shuffleboard to good sportsmanship.
Some tasks are more difficult than others to teach.
“One of the most difficult things to teach them is how to be good sports,” Hart said. “... The skills in the sports are not really that hard, it is just sportsmanship and getting them to treat each other fairly.”
Character stopped Hart from quitting after her first year, and it continues to color her physical education classes.
“Part of the reason I have been doing this so long is because when I first started it was really difficult. I had double classes with 45 to 60 kids every 30 minutes all day, by myself,” Hart said. “Part of the reason I stuck it out after the first year is because — I hate to say this, but I am very stubborn and needed a job.”
Twenty-nine years later has found Hart thankful she kept her job, for multiple reasons.
“I am happy to be here and I am happy to have a job. These ladies and gentlemen work so hard for these kids and I am so proud to have my name associated with the school,” Hart said.