Pat Larsen is qualified to work in both hospitals and schools.
Luckily for the students of Liberty Middle School, she's currently a teacher there because she was just honored as the Virginia Middle School Teacher of the Year for Health and P.E.
"SHE'S WONDERFUL, and she has a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise," said Liberty Principal Peggy Kelly. "And it all translates to what she's doing in the classroom. And what the children learn from her about health and good habits they can apply to the rest of their lives."
A Manassas resident, Larsen, 46, is in her second year at Liberty. She previously taught at Cooper Middle in McLean and has been with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) since summer 1999.
Born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., she received a bachelor's in physical education from Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., in 1984. She also obtained her master's there in 1989 in Human Performance Exercise Science.
"So I'm actually an exercise physiologist," said Larsen. "When I graduated from college in 1984, there were no teaching jobs available in New York, so I worked in a hospital for 10 years."
At North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., she worked in the Pediatrics Department, which included cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Said Larsen: "I worked with kids and adults on weight management and eating disorders, and with cancer and cardiac patients, as well as people with muscle disorders."
Her husband Greg finds project managers for construction companies in New York. And in summer 1999, his job brought him to Virginia — and Larsen, along with him. She applied for both hospital and teaching jobs here and accepted a teaching position at Cooper. After she began working there, Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., called her, but she stuck with teaching.
SHE WAS a department chair at Cooper for three years and, from 1997-2001, did some consulting for childrenwithdiabetes.com. She's currently on a health-advisory committee for FCPS and has given presentations at VAHPERD, the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
And it was this organization's award for which Larsen was nominated in August — and which she received in November. The ceremony was held Nov. 5 at the Cavalier Convention Center during VAHPERD's convention in Virginia Beach.
"I'm so proud of her," said Kelly. "Everything she does in her personal life reflects her attitude toward good health, and we feel very fortunate that she's part of our staff here at Liberty Middle."
Prior to Larsen's award, Liz Payne, FCPS' coordinator for health and P.E., wrote a letter on her behalf. And Liberty Assistant Principal Doris Evens forwarded several letters from the school also singing her praises.
As for Larsen, she said, "I was excited and ecstatic to be nominated, but I still don't know who submitted my name. I wish I knew who it was so I could thank them." Brenda Belote, who works with the adapted P.E. program for special-ed students at Cooper — and is a past president of VAHPERD — called Larsen in October to tell her she won.
"I couldn't believe it," said Larsen. "It's an honor, and to represent Fairfax County is a really nice thing."
She's currently an eighth-grade health specialist at Liberty, teaching five classes a day. She also taught one quarter of P.E. last year and says whether she teaches health or P.E. depends on the schedule. But Larsen does both extremely well.
"She generates such enthusiasm and fosters the development of the children's enthusiasm for leading healthy lives," said Kelly. "She also promotes the positive impact that exercise has, and not just for the physically fit. She also works with the special-ed teachers and students who are physically challenged."
Kelly said Larsen is involved in a wide range of interesting activities outside of school, too. One of them is riding motorcycles with her husband Greg. But Kelly's especially pleased that, in school, Larsen "has a passion for sharing her knowledge and expertise so she can make a difference in other people's lives."
FOR HER PART, Larsen truly enjoys being at Liberty. "It's a diverse population with great kids and staff and positive people. It's a job I look forward to going to every day. I tell the kids, 'You learn from me but, every day, I learn from you.' And that's what makes it exciting and worthwhile."
She wants her students not to just parrot material she's taught them, but to really take these concepts, see where they'd work and apply them to their own lives. Noting the support she receives from her peers in VAHPERD and in the county, she added, "I am very fortunate to do what I do and work where I work."