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Thinking outside the classroom box

Thinking outside the classroom box

This article was originally published on the Milken Educator Awards website.

Students at some schools bike to class, but students of Shannon Hill at Thermopolis middle school bike in class. The Wyoming Physical Education and Health teacher thinks waaay outside the box, building outdoor activities right into her classes. Taking advantage of her small town's natural setting, nestled at the southern end of the Big Horn Basin, Hill treats her students to hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing and even an annual off-campus camping trip.

But it was Hill who was served up a treat this morning indoors at a surprise school assembly, where she was presented with a prestigious Milken Educator Award by Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher. Hill was named a 2017-18 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Wyoming this year, and is among the 44 honorees for 2017-18.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

Far more than glorified rural recess, Hill's interdisciplinary Health and PE classes incorporate math and science concepts while also promoting mental health and wellness—all disguised as good old fun. Hill also pumps up her colleagues as she mentors new teachers, engages students after school by coaching volleyball and promotes community runs and fitness events to more fully integrate physical activity into everyday life.

"As Herbert Spencer wrote, 'The great aim of education is not knowledge but action', and by that measure and many more Shannon Hill is fulfilling the great aim by preparing her students for an active life well lived," said Gallagher. "Like all Milken Educators, and great teachers everywhere, Hill pushes her students and her colleagues to be their best in the classroom and in the larger world."

"Shannon Hill's dedication and commitment to her students goes well beyond the classroom," said Balow. "She practices what she teaches, and is able to combine Physical Education and Health in a way that touches each student personally. Shannon leads by example, and it shows in the way she inspires everyone around her, whether in the classroom or on the volleyball court, coaching the Lady Cats of Hot Springs High School."

"Shannon exudes excellence in everything that she does as an educator, coach, and certainly as it pertains to her roles with her own family," said District Superintendent Dustin Hunt. "The relationships that she builds with students, colleagues, and community are simply beyond measure. She is an amazing role model for lots of reasons, but I believe her deep passion for children would inspire anyone. It certainly inspires me."

About Milken Educator Shannon Hill:

Shannon Hill believes and demonstrates that physical health improves classroom performance. But kids will tell you they're just having fun. In student climate surveys, they have rated her class as their second favorite part of school for two years in a row. And that's no surprise. They enjoy 45 minutes of adventure every day as they swim, hike, bike, canoe, and even try archery.

Hill redesigned the Physical Education classes to promote safety and improve physical and mental health. She has presented its success during state and national conferences, including the National School Board Conference in March 2017. As students have become more active, math and reading scores at Thermopolis Middle School have steadily climbed. Five out of nine core areas at the school ranked top 10% in the state, and administrators credit this to the positive culture Hill has helped create.

Her PE model teaches kids skills they can use for a lifetime and maximizes various activities available in small towns that get students outside and on the go. Hill incorporates cross-curricular concepts, supporting math and literacy standards, within her physical education and health classes. Hill arranged to purchase 40 bikes so students could ride during class. Besides promoting health and fitness, the bike rides serve other educational purposes as well. The students bike to the grocery store (1 mile each way) and purchase fresh foods. The next day they learn how to cook healthy meals in class and use their math skills to calculate nutrition values. For mental stability, Hill engages students through lessons and surveys to improve self-perception and body image, stand up to peer pressure and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. As an end-of-year treat for 8th graders, Hill sponsors an overnight camping trip. The trip has to be earned and students must keep their behavior in check to not jeopardize their standing.

Hill mentors new teachers on building strong student relationships and effective classroom management, and partakes in school duties beyond the classroom. She is the student-council advisor and an active member of the Bobcat Booster club raising funds for school activities. Hill also supports the high school as the head varsity girls' volleyball coach, and hosts open gyms for other athletes to work out during practice. Active and visible throughout Hot Springs County, Hill has also changed the community. She coordinates the Ready, Set, Run program to get kids running and the annual Running with the Buffalo race, while her PE methods have extended to the high school. She hosts Challenge Days to teach at-risk students how to self-reflect and make better choices, and volunteers with students and community members to deliver Meals on Wheels on Sundays.

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