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Rewarding Excellence

Sharon Welch named Virginia's Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year.

On Friday morning, Sharon Welch was standing in the gymnasium at Seldens Landing Elementary School in Lansdowne surrounded by third-graders. As the students practiced dribbling balls in and out of each others legs, Welch walked around, softly giving encouragement or instructions and catching wayward balls as they threatened to roll away from their owners.

When Welch raised her hand, her students stopped what they were doing and placed their balls between their feet.

Friday, Oct. 13, Welch worked on soccer skills, such as controlled dribbling with her third-grade students. Wearing an electronic headset, Welch explains each drill slowly. At times she demonstrates a maneuver, giving a glimpse of the soccer skills she still possesses.

The mother of two grown children, Welch is still as active as any other working mother, serving on both state and county boards and committees, including serving as chairman of elementary-school physical education committee for the commonwealth. She is also the editor of www.pecentral.org, a Web site used by most working physical education teachers, putting together lesson plans for kindergarten through second-grade classes.

"I am involved in this profession as a whole," Welch said. "I want to share and I hope [what I do] is something that other people can use."

Now she has one more achievement to add to her resume, teacher of the year. Welch was named Virginia's Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, an award she will officially receive at the organizations state convention Nov. 4.

"I am very excited about it," she said. "It is very nice to be recognized for what you do or what you try to do."

WELCH WAS NOMINATED for the award by Barbara Eason, who is a physical education teacher at Sanders Corner Elementary School.

"She's like my mentor," Welch said. "I was honored that she wanted to nominate me."

Eason said she is "proud and pleased" that Welch received the award, which puts her in contention for the Southern District Elementary Physical Education Teacher award and, if she were to win, the national award.

"Sharon is certainly the caliber of teacher to win those awards," Eason said.

Welch and Eason began working together when Welch started in the county 16 years ago. She split her time as a physical education teacher at Sully Elementary, Guilford Elementary and Catoctin Elementary, before working full time at Sully. Welch then went on to Potowmack Elementary before moving to Seldens Landing when it opened in 2001.

"It is so much fun to work in elementary schools," Welch said. "You get to see them develop their skills over time. [The kids] have great attitudes."

Jackie Brownell, Seldens Landing's principal, said Welch's commitment to her students has given her the respect of everyone she meets.

"She will try to give success to all kids," Brownell said. "She'll praise kids. She makes sure that kids who maybe aren't natural athletes walk away from school with something they can be proud of. I wish I'd had a P.E. teacher like her."

Welch said all she wants to do is inspire children to continue to be active as they get older.

"I want to expose them to things they like and a wide variety of things they can pursue," she said. "It feels really good when you see that little lightbulb go off in them."

AS A PART of providing children with a large spectrum of activities, Welch has introduced several programs to Seldens Landing, including Jumping Jamboree where students in kindergarten through the second grade learn to jump rope, Girls on the Run and the before-school jogging program.

"Everyone participates [in the jogging club] to some degree," she said. "It has become pretty popular."

Every morning students go out to the track and jog. Each student receives a colored index card and for every lap they run they receive a hole punch. When the student has reached five miles, they get the next colored index card.

"I already have kids around 40 miles," she said. "I have hit on the program that works."

In addition to their index cards, students receive a foot-shaped charm for every card they complete. The charms, which are provided by the PTA, are a point of pride for students, Welch said.

"It is something concrete," she said, "that they can look at and see what they have done."

Brownell said she is amazed by all that Welch does at the school.

"She is our health and wellness chairperson," Brownell said. "She mentors staff members, people who want to lose weight or get healthy."

WELCH'S COMPETENCE when it comes to physical fitness and education is something that Brownell is always amazed at, she said.

"You can ask her to do something and not only does it get done, but she goes above and beyond," she said. "She knows the inner workings of the school and the community. I really relied on her when we first started."

Indeed, Eason said that Welch is the perfect example of what a physical education teacher should be.

"She goes beyond normal expectations to include academic and health-related information in her physical education lessons," Eason wrote in her nomination letter.

Eason said she considers Welch not only a colleague, but also a friend.

"I respect her dedication, her drive and her ability," she said.

Even after so many years of teaching, Welch has no intention of slowing down and she takes her new award in stride.

"It is nice to think I have had an impact on the kids and other teachers in the county," she said. "As long as I am having fun and the kids are having fun and they're learning I am going to keep teaching."