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Having fun at school is the key for Dad. teacher of the year finalist from Berks

Daniel Boone health and physical education teacher Bo Shappell has been named a finalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Bo Shappell doesn’t remember much Latin.

He took the course while still a student at Exeter High School. But over the years the vocabulary, conjugations and grammar have largely escaped him.

What he hasn’t forgotten, however, is how he felt in that class.

“The teacher made the lesson fun,” he said.

That teacher, Michael Kittsock, eventually became a finalist for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year Award. He also inspired Shappell to want to teach.

Now in his 19th year of teaching in the Daniel Boone School District, Shappell has not only followed in Kittsock’s footsteps by pursuing a career in education, but also by being honored by the state for his work.

Shappell has been named one of twelve finalists for the prestigious Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Award this year. And that is largely due to the fact that we try to make students enjoy school as much as Kittsock made him enjoy Latin.

“I want this to be the best possible experience for students,” he says.

In addition to feeling he had a calling to teach, Shappell has always loved sports. So he combined his two passions: he became a physical education and health teacher.

He spent the first 14 years of his career working at Daniel Boone Middle School. Four years ago he moved to Daniel Boone High School.

Not a traditional gym

At both stops, Shappell has tried to turn his lessons into something students can really enjoy and learn from. He even rewrote the district’s curriculum to make that happen, turning physical education into something adults might not recognize.

“My program is not like the traditional ‘roll the ball out,’” he said. “I have developed an integrated wellness program.”

That program includes four pillars: muscle development, mind-body connections, cardiovascular improvement and self-assessment.

Shappell said his program includes traditional team sports — the kind that many people imagine when they think of a physical education class — as well as individual activities. Both have benefits, he said, but individual athletic activities are likely things students will stick with into adulthood.

He said only a small proportion of adults play team sports.

Shappell has also tried to merge physical education and health education, but said it never made sense for him not to.

“Why do we separate health and physical education in a silo?” he said. “They go hand in hand.”

Shappell said he wanted to create full, robust programs for students. He wanted to create something that could impact their lives and be fun at the same time.

“I know adults who say they hated physical education,” he said. “I don’t want that for my students. I want to change children’s perception about their future and movement.”

Search for help

But to continue his program, Shappell needed some help. Like most school districts, Daniel Boone did not necessarily have the equipment needed for many of the individual activities he wanted to teach.

Such as TRX tires, for example. TRX bands are rubber fitness bands with different resistances that can be used for a variety of exercises.

Daniel Boone didn’t have one, so Shappell decided to contact TRX Training to see if they could donate one. He wrote a letter to the company’s CEO and received an unexpected and exciting response.

The company wouldn’t send one free tire, but a dozen. They would also send everything needed to install the bands for free, and provide Shappell with free training so he could become certified to train other TRX band instructors.

“When I got the call, I was so happy I cried,” Shappell said.

After that success, Shappell was encouraged. Over the past few years, he has approached more and more companies asking for donations, and many have been more than willing to help.

He received water bottles from Yeti. He got yoga mats. In total, Shappell is estimated to have received more than $10,000 worth of items.

In the cards

Shappell has also been able to bring another device into the classroom, one he made himself.

The 39-year-old said he was out to dinner with his wife a few years ago when he noticed something.

“I saw all these families and the parents on their phones, the kids on their tablets,” he said. “I thought, ‘Where are the connections?’ Something has been lost.”

So Shappell decided to do something to help. He and his wife, Daniella, used the experience as motivation to create COMCHI, a card game designed to encourage connections and reflection.

The cards have different aspects. They can be used as a standard deck of cards, but they also each have a certain color, a nature scene and a reflective question.

Shappell and his wife sell the cards on Amazon, and they have become quite popular among educators and in the business world. And Shappell has started holding workshops to learn how to use the cards.

One example he gave came from his own class last year.

Shappell had his students pair up and each choose a card with a color that reflected something they did this weekend. A few boys both chose red.

“One chose red because he had been to a Phillies game, and the other chose red because he saw the game on TV,” Shappell said. “These two guys, who had never spoken to each other before, were suddenly engaged and talking about the Phillies.”

For the students

Innovations like COMCHI are one of the reasons Shappell was named a finalist for Teacher of the Year, with the winner to be announced at a ceremony this fall. It’s a recognition he says is humbling.

“I feel so lucky to be a part of this educational work and to be considered one of these other great teachers,” he said, adding that he feels like being a finalist is already a victory. “If I win, that would be the icing on the cake. I would like to take it home to our district, to my students, because they have been so helpful.”

That’s really what it’s all about, Shappell said. Winning an award doesn’t mean much without his students, they are the reason he does what he does.

And they are a big part of the reason he is the teacher he is.

“It’s definitely the students,” he said. “I learn from them every day. They make me not want to remain complacent and always want to grow.

“They make me want to hone and improve my craft.”

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