ISLE PHYSICAL EDUCATION
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mililani Middle School teacher Gregg Agena was recently named the National Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
Fitness evangelist builds believers at Mililani school
OVERWEIGHT or out-of-shape kids are hard to find at Mililani Middle School, especially in the physical education classes set up by teacher Gregg Agena.
At a time when federal demands for academic improvement are pressuring schools nationwide to cut into physical education, Agena has spearheaded an effort at his school to hold the line with a rich and robust program.
For that, Agena was honored last weekend as the National PE Teacher of the Year, the first Hawaii winner of the 20-year-old award bestowed by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
Agena credits a "supportive" school administration for giving him a long leash in setting up the school's current physical education programs beginning six years ago, two years after the school opened.
"Everybody (at the awards ceremony in Utah) was talking about how they have to educate their school administrators about the need to build up their PE programs, but I've gotten a lot of backing here," said Agena, a graduate of the University of Hawaii and 11-year teacher in Hawaii schools.
But colleagues say it was Agena who hammered home the belief that sports and fitness are vital in creating a well-rounded child who does well in the classroom.
"He completely turned things upside down here and got everybody to believe in that, too," said fellow PE teacher Nathan Houghtailing.
Rather than scale back PE, Mililani not only requires each student at the multitrack school to take a nine-week general physical education class every year, it also offers four additional year-long electives ranging from Polynesian dance to body conditioning.
They are the most popular electives at the school, with more than half of students currently taking one -- many not for the first time, said registrar Vera Pang.
In the eighth-grade Body Conditioning elective, students use high-tech systems to gauge their physical fitness through measurements of body-mass index, heart rate and other indicators. Progress toward improved fitness is monitored throughout the year.
In the Recreational Leadership elective, yellow-shirted students selected by peers and teachers serve as class role models, assist teachers in a variety of ways and perform school and community services.
The school has a weight-training facility worth of a high school, thanks to a grant landed by Agena, who also has organized district-level special-education "field days," Principal Roger Kim said.
"He's not just a 'throw out the ball' teacher. He's really involved," Kim said.
The school as a whole has achieved federal academic performance targets, but is headed toward the federal doghouse due to the test scores of its low-income and special-education students, Kim said.
But there are no plans to retreat on physical education, Kim said.
"If you don't give them what they need on the physical side, you often won't get what you want on the other side," he said.
About 30 Body Conditioning students demonstrated some deft footwork with an agility exercise at the end of class yesterday. But when the period ended and it was time to go back to a regular classroom, those feet suddenly turned to lead. They had to be shooed away by Houghtailing.
"We're really, really lucky (to have Agena)," said eighth-grader Tanner Nakasone. "(Fitness) is the thing here at Mililani."