A Palm Beach Atlantic physical education alumna who leads by example in teaching the value of excellence and hard work is nominated for a national teaching award.
Kristy Rodgers Kirk, a 2009 graduate from Lake Worth, Florida, is in the running for the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award, having won this year’s Southern District award and the Florida award in 2020. The winner will be announced in April.
Kirk’s drive to keep improving makes her a great teacher, said Dr. Denise Breitkreuz, associate professor of health and human performance.
“She doesn’t settle for mediocrity,” said Breitkreuz. “She strives to get every child to be their absolute best.”
Kirk is a physical education teacher, department chair and head coach for track and field and cross country at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, Florida, where she has worked for six years. Previously, at the elementary level, she taught students with disabilities and also taught physical education.
While Kirk was still a PBA student, she led a professional development gymnastics presentation for Palm Beach County administrators at the invitation of Eric Stern, the school district’s K-12 curriculum administrator for physical, health and driver education.
“Going to PBA, I really got connected with the right people early on in my career,” Kirk said. Of Stern and other mentors, she said, “They’ve really just poured into me since Day One. They saw the potential that I had, and they knew that I was different.”
Breitkreuz remembers Kirk as “one of the best students in the class.” She served as a Bible study leader in Oceanview Hall and a group leader for Welcome Week, helping new students get oriented and make friends. Kirk started coaching at Lake Worth Christian School while she was still a PBA student. She learned how to coach cheerleading, became the assistant track coach and served as a choreographer for the school’s competitive show choir. She also taught gymnastics for five years.
Kirk took the community service habits she developed through PBA’s Workship program and instilled them in her high school students at John I. Leonard. Her track team frequently volunteers to man the water tables at various races. Through these experiences, she made a connection with Palm Beach Road Runners, which raises money to support youth running and send youth to running camps. After many conversations about how expensive track equipment is, the Palm Beach Road Runners asked Kirk for a wish list.
They didn’t speak of it again for a couple months until, one day, the Palm Beach Road Runners president asked Kirk to meet her and mysteriously asked her to have her husband there. Palm Beach Road Runners partnered with another nonprofit, The Sock Drawer, to tackle the wish list.
“They gave us $10,000 to purchase all new equipment for the kids this year,” Kirk said. “All they wanted was for us to help them collect socks for the homeless.”
John I. Leonard High School serves a high percentage of low-income students, Kirk said. She tries to set them up for success on the field, on the track and in life with the advice: “Your diploma is your ticket to post-graduate success.”
“We talk about how athletics opens up the door to other opportunities,” Kirk said.