Recognizing a School Health Champion: Jean Armstrong
We first discovered Jean Armstrong three years ago, when our School Programs Manager Sara toured Corpus Christi ISD to get feedback on our Teach Healthier curricula. Throwback to when we first became IT’S TIME TEXAS and before Teach Healthier was a mobile app, when the lessons were in print form. “Jean was our last stop,” Sara recalls. “We asked what resources she used for lessons and she proceeded to answer, ‘I don’t use this,’ ‘I don’t use that,’ ‘I don’t like this either…’”. Jean was an experienced physical educator who knew what she didn’t want, and she also told Sara what she did want: activities that were fun. Indeed, we’ve learned that Jean’s philosophy is all about having fun with her students and making physical activity enjoyable for everyone.
About a year after Sara’s first meeting with Jean, we developed the Teach Healthier mobile app, and Sara returned to Corpus Christi to lead a training. Much to her surprise, Coach Jean Armstrong became a top Teach Healthier user in the district and integrated the app lessons into her existing gardening program and other units. Jean modified the activities to fit her class size and teaching style. “Sometimes I would even put two or three [Teach Healthier lessons] together to change it up a bit,” she explained. Jean emailed Sara regularly after the app launched with pictures of her students participating in the lessons, and to share suggestions. This feedback helped us make revisions to Teach Healthier content and to the app itself. Reflecting on their relationship, Sara says, “I couldn’t be more thankful for Jean’s passion and dedication to making PE better for her kids. She is a true health champion.”
In addition to being among the first to use Teach Healthier, Jean formed a hugely popular running club at Oak Park Elementary. “When I first got there,” Jean reminisced, “there was a lady who had a running club for fifteen or twenty of the bigger kids. When I took over, they weren’t sure if we should have the little kids join, and I said ‘why not? Start ‘em young!’ That first year I had one hundred kids join the running club. In order to help out the parents, I had a lot of the students twice a week and also held Workout Wednesdays, so it was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I was really busy!” Jean has also organized countless weekend events for students and families, encouraging parents and grandparents to walk or run alongside their children. We asked her how she won over her students and their families in the beginning. “First, you’ve got to love what you’re doing. Be patient, and stay organized. Try to be as organized as possible. Get people to help. And be yourself. They may not like you in the beginning, but once they realize your heart’s in it, they’ll get over it. They’ll see the true you.”
Nelda Jasso, a Corpus Christi ISD middle school coach who has worked with Jean for twelve years, has learned these lessons and many more from having Jean as a mentor. “Working with Jean is like having a PE handbook at your fingertips. She has a plethora of knowledge, she is very dedicated to her work, and she loves the kids.” When we asked Nelda to share the single most important thing she’s learned from Jean over the years (no pressure,) she echoed exactly what we heard from Jean herself: “You have to love what you are doing.” Jean truly believes that if a teacher loves working with their students and can’t imagine doing anything else, then the rest can be learned. She also believes in the power of being a health role model. She always walked the halls at her school eating an apple or drinking water. Her students took notice, and she introduced them to fruits and vegetables they’d never tried before to keep her health lessons fresh.
Jean recently shared with us that she has been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. A group of colleagues organized a Strong Armstrong run in her honor earlier this month, and students and families have been filling her calendar with lunch and dinner dates because they miss seeing her at school and on the weekends. Still, Jean has carved out the time to tell her Facebook friends to “quit talking about whatever else and get going on the Community Challenge! Stop talking about what you want to do and do it!” IT’S TIME TEXAS got its start working in schools because we knew if anyone had the determination and heart to tackle the obesity epidemic, it was teachers. Jean is proof of why we were right to start where we did, with the people who tirelessly shape our next generation and have fun doing it. Our team is grateful to Jean for her participation in and feedback on our programming over the years, and she continues to inspire us. We can empower Texas educators with the tools to make healthy change, but their energy and love for the job is something that cannot be taught. It’s school health champions like Jean who are making Texas a healthier place to live and learn by always going the extra mile.