Hamilton gym teacher wins only Ohio gold award for excellence

A Hamilton Schools’ physical education teacher is the only 2022 winner in Ohio of a prestigious gold-medal award for excellence in her work with students.

Ridgeway Elementary gym instructor Dawnjene DeLong and the school were recently awarded the Ohio Gold Excellence in Physical Education Award.

The program is sponsored by the Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. For 2022, DeLong and her school were the only recipients of the gold award in the entire state, which has more than 3,000 elementary schools, said Jeff Archiable, spokesman for Hamilton Schools.

The annual award is based on much more than simply meeting state-minimum standards for physical education (PE) instruction but rather requires a wide range of incorporating extra-curricula learning as part of gym class lessons.

And according to Ridgeway Principal Kathy Wagonfield, DeLong, known as “DJ” at her school, has excelled at that sort of holistic instructional approach for years.

“DJ has extraordinary passion that truly makes her classes both instructional and fun,” Wagonfield said of the nine-year veteran of the city schools.

“She has excellent interpersonal skills and spends hours transforming the gym into an ever-changing learning area.”

Wagonfield said just one of many examples was how in October, DeLong incorporated the Halloween holiday into having her students develop their motor skills via a customized challenge course.

The obstacle course included Halloween-themed music and lighting set up by DeLong to add fun to her PE class at the school, which has more than 800 students.

Wagonfield had DeLong, a Hamilton native and graduate of the city schools, as a student decades ago and even then saw the potential of the future teacher-to-be.

“She was very athletic and our PE teacher at the time was stellar,” she said of the now retired, former Ridgeway gym teacher Robin Michael.

“DJ learned from the best and still gives Michael credit today for guiding her in the direction of becoming a PE teacher.”

DeLong said her former PE instructor was very instrumental in guiding her development as Ohio’s top honored gym teacher.

“I didn’t realize I was the only one in the state to receive it (award) until I recently went to the (Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance) convention to receive it. I was really surprised,” said DeLong.

The legacy of carrying on Michael’s high-quality instruction at Ridgeway is one DeLong is proud of, she said.

“I really love working here at Ridgeway. I don’t actually call it work. I say ‘I’m coming to school’ and it’s really fun to be with the kids and help them pursue activities that will help them be physically active for the rest of their lives.”

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