Swim noodles danced in the air, music played and kids cheered her name as Penny Kroening waved from her seat in a red convertible during the parade held in her honor at Summit View Elementary School.
The excitement was tied to a top grade earned by Kroening, who was named the Society of Health and Physical Educators Teacher of the Year during their 131st National Convention held in Minneapolis on April 8.
Kroening is in her 30th year of teaching, most of them at Summit View, having worked at the school since it opened in 1992.
'I know most people think that they have the best job in the world, but I really have it,' Kroening said.
'You work with great kids, great parents, great staff, and you have this opportunity to try to change kids' lives and to change their passion for wanting to move and finding that one thing in life they love to move to. And I get to do that every day.'
Kroening was named Wisconsin State Teacher of the Year in 2015 by Wisconsin Health and Physical Education organization (WHPE) before moving on, eventually becoming national teacher of the year.
WHPE CEO Keith Bakken said the honors are indeed noteworthy.
'These really are top notch educators, when you get up there, it's pretty impressive criteria,' Bakken said. 'I think the way we are going those teachers who best excel at the academic nature and the activity of physical education are the ones that are rising to the top.'
Kroening has a different approach to fitness, offering students choices by using learning centers that let students choose how they want to go about a skill or choose the equipment they use.
'I know the skill I want the kids to be working on. How they are performing that skill doesn't matter to me,' Kroening said. 'If you can engage that child or those children with that equipment or idea, they talk to each other, and their learning goes deep.'
Her classroom also involves integrating art, something every class at Summit View does. (Summit View is an integrated arts magnet school, something Kroening said gives her freedom to teach the way she does.)
'I feel like this has been an amazing journey, but heightened by the way we are able to teach here,' she said, 'to be able to use all avenues to try to get to that student to move.'
Each year students put on a musical performance at the end of the year. They've done 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Annie.' Kroening tries to incorporate those types of themes and movements into her class. Last year students used brooms to push sponges around like a hockey puck, like they would in a scene from 'Annie.'
Her lessons don't focus on sports like basketball or volleyball that might only interest a few students. Instead, she looks to get them interested in moving in a way that suits them now and into the future, teaching students the same skills, differently.
'I hear that all the time in Penny's classroom,' Principal Jeff Peterson said. 'You need to move, take care of your body and you need to keep it strong. She gives choice after choice all day long that will fit everyone's interest and skill level.'
Kroening's classes also involve using technology. Each student has an iPad that they use to create sportfolios, that they use to analyze their movements and learn some of the more scientific aspects of moving and throwing.
Kroening's third grade class recently went to a Brewer's game for science and weather day. Before they went they prepared themselves, practicing throwing overhand and throwing curveballs.
To make the curveballs work, the students decoupaged string onto a sytrofoam ball and threw it over and over, watching it curve and comparing the data on their iPads.
'The challenge of bringing arts integration and integrating technology in to the classroom have been seamless for those somewhat disconnected avenues of arts integration,' Peterson said.
Celebrating the honor
Kroening's celebratory parade took place on Wednesday, April 20, but it took some careful planning.
The principal sent Kroening and a few other teachers to lunch as they excitedly got everything ready.
'We actually started planning before she won, thinking if she won we wouldn't have much time and we would want to celebrate,' Peterson said.
There were some issues with the timing as the teachers tried to rush along the lunch.
'Being the person Penny is, she asked everyone a question before they came back. ... 'What is your plan for greatness?'' Peterson said, getting emotional.
'Well it's about kids and it's about making a difference in their life,' Kroening said in response, 'And we were having lunch on my principal, I thought we should use it wisely.'
The teachers and students managed to keep the parade a secret from Kroening, although there might have been a few leaks in the previous 24 hours, Peterson said.
When Kroening arrived back at school, a red chariot awaited her in the form of a convertible, a sash and flowers to complete her honorary look. The students made banners and they had 400 Kroening faces — printouts of her face on Popsicle sticks — to display.
'The students were responsible for creating the parade atmosphere,' Peterson said, 'Every single person enjoyed the day so much because of the excitement and sense of community.'
The parade planning committee even got Kroening's family to come from Minnesota, culminating in a victory lap around circle drive with all of her students and friends.
'Every teacher needs this,' she said.