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Bessler named Nevis Teacher of the Year

Nevis Teacher of the Year Crystal Bessler, at left, was presented her award by teacher Janet Golden-Landquist who chairs the Teacher of the Year committee. Bessler teaches Physical Education classes for elementary students. Submitted photo.

Crystal Bessler loves teaching kids the importance of being active. Her efforts were recognized by her peers who recently named her Nevis Teacher of The Year.

"It's an honor to be recognized by my colleagues," she said. "I love coming to my job every day. I love the joy and energy the kids come in with. As soon as they come into the gym they're asking what game we're playing. I want them to keep that excitement."

This is Bessler's third year teaching physical education teacher to students in kindergarten through sixth grade at Nevis. A graduate of Bemidji State University, Bessler did her student teaching at Nevis. She then taught at Laporte School for eight years before starting her current position. She also coaches 7th and 8th grade girls' basketball and softball.

She said she talks to her younger students about how playing games where they move their bodies is healthy for their hearts.

"I tell them the heart is a muscle and if we don't use that muscle and get our hearts beating fast we get sick hearts when we are older," she said. "I also tell them when they work their bodies in gym and have sore muscles when they go to sleep at night their muscles repair and get stronger. Physical education teachers are not just here so kids can burn off some steam, we are teaching them about their bodies and how to keep them fit."

With the older students, she shares more about the science of exercise. That includes an introduction to the weight room for fifth and sixth graders. "That way when they get to seventh grade they know how to use the equipment so they can get their bodies in shape and have a happier, healthier life," she said.

She hopes to find a way to get Fitbits for her students. "I'm looking to write a grant because the kids love to see their step counts and heart beat and how physical activity affects their bodies," she said.

Bessler said the favorite game for students in grades K-2 is "Steal the Bacon," a half-court game that uses hoola hoops for frying pans and bean bags for bacon. "They have to cross over the line to try to steal the bacon from the other side and bring it back to their frying pan and if they get tagged they turn into a piece of bacon which their classmates then have to run and rescue," she said.

Students in grades three to six enjoy "Capture the Flag" and doubles badminton tournaments.

Bessler said she doesn't grade on how well students score on fitness or skills tests. "National standards tell where students should be, but I stress individual progress and personal goals," she said. "We set goals for the middle of the year and the end of the year. Wherever they start I want to see progress. That's success in my eyes and in theirs. If they see they could only do three push ups at the beginning of the year and they can do seven halfway through the year they feel good. I don't compare classmate to classmate because everybody's different."

She said fitness at home is important, too. "I tell my kids they should have 60 to 90 minutes a day where their heart rate is up," she said. "I only have them for 30 minutes a day. At home, they can go sledding and walk up the hill or run up and down the stairs. When parents do activities with them that has even more of an impact because it shows exercise is valued."

Games that involve a lot of movement like a wii fit board or dance party work too.

"If kids feel their heart beating faster that's a simple way to evaluate it," she said.

Bessler also works with classroom teachers on movement breaks.

"One of our teacher development days last year was our team of physical education teachers sharing resources like to use when students have been sitting for 30 minutes or more. Even just three to five minutes of exercise counts towards the 60 to 90 minute goal for the day," she said.

Bessler also brings what kids are learning in the classroom to gym. A recent activity "Voyage of the Mayflower" featured kids on scooter boards driving across to collect turkey parts to build their own turkeys.

"Whatever unit they are working on in the classroom, I try to incorporate some activities in the gym," she said. "If I connect what they are doing in the classroom it helps them make connections and builds pathways in their brain so they retain information much better."

Besides the exercise she gets with the kids, Bessler plays softball and works out at the school fitness center. She also plays golf and tennis. "I tell my kids they may not be able to play competitive basketball all of their life but bowling, swimming, badminton or bocce ball are good lifetime sports they can do on their own," she said.

She said putting the emphasis on fun makes kids want to exercise.

"Everybody loves competition, but they don't love competition when they're outmatched," she said. "I look at the skill level of my kids and match them up by ability group so everyone feels success. We focus on teamwork, build skills and have a balance between just playing for fun and competitions. I try to teach them they will win sometimes and lose sometimes. That's life and you need to learn to be a humble winner and a gracious loser also."

Bessler said when she first started teaching she would just "pound through" the volleyball unit teaching skills and rules. But she noticed that was only fun for the more skilled players. When some kids weren't very successful at keeping the ball off the ground, she split the gym into two groups. At one net, traditional volleyball was played. At the other, one bounce was allowed for each hit. "That group of kids got so into it because they could keep the play going longer," she said. "It was so fun watching them have fun and success by modifying the game with just one little rule. The next week they were excited to play again because it's more fun when everyone can contribute."

Bessler and her husband Justin live in the Lake George area. They have three children who attend Nevis School. Kayli in 7th grade, Adrian in 5th grade and Weston in 3rd. "I love Laporte and the people in Laporte but when I got my job here the kids started at Nevis School and the community here has really embraced us,"she said.