Relay Alum Jermar Rountree Wins DC Teacher of the Year Award, with a Focus on Healthy Communities
On October 17th, 2022, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser showed up at Center City PCS- Brightwood and gave Physical Education teacher Jermar Rountree a big surprise - the DC Teacher of the Year Award. The award is given out by the Council of Chief State School Officers and comes with a $7,500 prize, plus another $2,500 to travel to conferences and workshops during his year-long term. Awardees from the 50 states, U.S. territories, District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education are then also eligible to apply for National Teacher of the Year.
The award is an incredible honor for Rountree - but of course, it’s not his reason for teaching. “I love what I do. That’s the most important piece.” Rountree says. He’s passionate about helping students build healthier bodies, minds, and communities through subjects like exercise, mental health, nutrition, and so much more.
The physical education classes of old were mostly focused on sports. In Coach Rountree’s class, students work on skills like increasing speed, coordination, flexibility, strength - even biking or learning about rhythm through drumming. In his health class, students get a detailed look into how their bodies function, from the cardiovascular to the muscular system. And their nutrition lessons connect back to real-world choices and systems. For example, Coach Rountree takes his students to the grocery store to look at the prices of healthy vs less healthy items. They’ll do field trips to local restaurants and discuss how community shapes the way we see food. “PE has come a long way,” Coach Rountree says, “It really offers life skills to our students.”
Coach Rountree has always focused on understanding his students’ lives outside of school, so he can connect to what interests and engages them. He learned even more about this approach, culturally responsive teaching, while getting his Master of Arts in Teaching at Relay, graduating in 2018. Coach Rountree says that his Relay experience shaped him in other ways as well:
“Relay changed my mindset for creating lessons. It shifted the way I thought about everything. The most powerful thing I learned was ‘teaching to misconceptions’ and lesson planning backwards. There are so many opportunities where students just don’t understand, and if we don’t teach those misconceptions, we lose the student.”
For example, when students go on the grocery store field trip, he first asks them to predict how much various items cost, and then compare that prediction to reality. That deliberate teacher move - the prediction set up, the actual trip to the store - makes the lesson stick.
In addition to teaching, Coach Rountree has taken on leadership positions. He is in charge of the after school program, which serves half the students in the school, and leads professional development for all physical education teachers in the Center City network. He also works to build bridges with the community - for example, through partnership with the police, so that his students can see the police in a different light, and so that the officers can get to know his students and their families.
And of course, Coach Rountree shares his athletic talents with students outside of school, as a leader with a local youth running group. Every Saturday morning he runs with a group of kids who go on to do 5Ks, 10 milers - and, naturally, develop a love for the sport and the camaraderie.
This love for his students drives him to show them what’s possible. He says he grew up in an under-resourced neighborhood, went to eight different elementary schools and even had some setbacks even as he moved through college. He says, “Seeing individuals like myself, I want to see us make it. I want to see individuals who come from backgrounds like me to not give up on their dreams, because there isn’t anyone to push them.”
Coach Rountree is there for his students - to push them, to love them, to open up the world to their hearts, minds, and bodies.