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Santos named state’s top middle school PE teacher

by | Mar 3, 2024 | Education

Kristen Santos insists she is not special or different from any of the other teachers at Hopkinton Middle School. But the Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, for one, would disagree.

The nonprofit organization (which uses the acronym AHPERD) recently named Santos its Massachusetts Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. She will be recognized with the honor at a banquet this spring.

“I don’t know what set me apart,” Santos said. “It’s an important job, but I don’t do it for recognition.”

Santos has been teaching for 26 years, 20 of those in Hopkinton. She began her teaching career in Framingham after graduating from St. Lawrence University with a degree in physical education.

As a child, Santos said, she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.

Kristen Santos

Kristen Santos

Santos said she loves what she does because every day is different and it is a “high energy” job.

“You have to love and understand that age group,” Santos said. “You never know what you are going to get each day. … I get a kick out of the sixth graders. They are so excited and can’t wait to get in the door for class.”

She explained that physical education classes today are not like the gym days many older people remember, at times with trepidation.

Eighth graders choose electives, signing up for activities per trimester.

Kids play rugby, ultimate Frisbee, jump rope, volleyball, basketball and more.

Being able to interact with middle school students every other day gives her the opportunity to really get to know them, Santos said.

“We want them to be lifelong movers who value fitness and health,” she said. “Classes are one hour, so we want to make that time count.”

Santos acknowledged that not all kids are athletic, and she and her colleagues try to make physical education as non-competitive and fun as much as possible.

Physical education educators spend time teaching skills and working on things like balance, agility, coordination and more, she explained.

“Teachers have to be coaches, referees, salesmen and educators,” Santos said. “There are so many teachable moments … how to be a teammate, how to win or lose and take responsibility for their own actions.”

Yoga has played a significant role in the teacher’s life. Santos explained she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and several people recommended the practice “as a way of healing.”

“I took what was tough for me and something positive came out of it,” Santos said.

She began training with the Childlight Education Company in 2017, and during COVID, she completed the first live online 200-hour training the company offered. She now is an instructor there.

Santos brought that knowledge to Hopkinton’s PE curriculum. In addition, she authored the publication “The Yoga Curriculum For Physical Education,” with versions for elementary and middle school teachers.

She also travels the country presenting “How to Implement Yoga into the Physical Education Curriculum” at state AHPERD events, including in Colorado, New York, Maine and Massachusetts.

She will be a presenter at the SHAPE America National Conference in Ohio next month.

But Santos downplays her achievements as an individual, praising her colleagues at Hopkinton Middle School, some of whom have received this same award.

One such recipient is colleague Debra Pinto, who nominated Santos for the AHPERD award.

Pinto noted that she has worked with Santos for 20 years and called her “an outstanding teacher and role model for both faculty and students.”

“After all of this time, she continues to inspire me to be a better educator,” Pinto said.

In her nomination, Pinto wrote that her colleague was “instrumental” in creating, organizing and assessing the school’s wellness curriculum.

Pinto also acknowledged how the educator works with administration and guidance staff to bring social and emotional learning programs to students.

Additionally, Pinto appreciated how Santos has written successful grants resulting in equipment purchases that keep Hopkinton “at the forefront of physical education.”

“I am proud to call [Santos] a friend and colleague. She is a well-respected professional, teacher, and a friend to anyone that crosses her path,” Pinto added.

Santos feels fortunate to work in Hopkinton and at HMS.

“They are the best bunch to work with, and there isn’t anyone I can’t smile at and have a conversation with [there],” she said.

She believes the community stands out because Hopkinton “values education,” and the district’s administrators emphasize professional development.

Although she is modest about her accomplishments and “finds it hard to handle compliments,” Santos appreciates the AHPERD recognition.

“To have that honor attached to my name makes me feel good and gives me confidence,” Santos said. “I really do not think I’m great. I feel like every teacher should win an award. I am just lucky to be in Hopkinton.”

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