The Red Shirt Rookies at Belleview Elementary could barely contain their excitement as they waited for what had been dubbed a “huge secret surprise.”
First, Papa John’s Pizza was delivered for lunch – but that wasn’t the “huge secret surprise.” Then Bernie the St. Bernard, the official mascot of the Colorado Avalanche, bounded into the room, much to the delight of the students who make up the Red Shirt Rookies. But Bernie wasn’t the big surprise either.
Next, Belleview’s Physical Education teacher, Pam Smith, arrived. She wasn’t the “huge secret surprise,” but she got a big surprise when she learned that she had been named the Most Valuable Teacher, or “MVT,” for November by the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets. The MVT program honors Colorado teachers who continually strive for excellence and empower youth in their community.
That definitely describes Smith, who has made a positive difference in the lives of Belleview students for more than 25 years.
“Mrs. Smith works tirelessly to encourage kids to participate in and enjoy physical activity. She wants to instill a lifelong love of being active and physically fit,” said Belleview school nurse Molly McKanna, who nominated Smith for the MVT award. “She is always trying to help students build self-esteem in her classes while learning new skills and how to play fair and interact with others. Mrs. Smith emphasizes educating the ‘whole child’ in preparation for a healthy and successful life.”
One way Smith has done that is through the Red Shirt Rookies program, which is sponsored by Special Olympics. The program pairs general education students with students who have special needs, including autism, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and mobility issues. They meet once a week during the school’s “Friday Fun Time” to learn sports skills and play collaborative games.
“They learn about teamwork and getting along and helping each other. That the process is more important than the product,” Smith said. “The camaraderie and the friendships that have been formed have been really amazing.”
The program has been wildly successful and so many students want to participate that they have to take turns, Smith explained. Some of the current Red Shirt Rookies had the honor of seeing Smith receive her award, which includes dinner at the Pepsi Center and tickets for four to the Avalanche game on Nov. 30, as well as the pizza party for her students and a $500 grant to support her P.E. program.
“I was very surprised,” Smith said, after celebrating with her students. “It’s just an awesome feeling to be recognized for what you love to do.”