Health and physical education teacher James Overton is the recipient of the Governor’s Teacher of the Year award in New Jersey. He’s also a winner of a Fuel Up to Play 60 N.J. State Program Advisor of the Year award for his work at Quibbletown Middle School, where he is changing the culture around physical activity and nutrition to teach his students the value of wellness.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I was greatly alarmed when I started seeing the high numbers of child obesity in our country. I see middle school students every day that have terrible eating habits and are not as active as they should be, and I see the direct correlation between that and their lack of self-esteem. I want to help them get through the rough teenage years and start them on their way to being healthy and productive adults.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
Education is the key. I try to teach my students about the importance of being active and eating healthy every day. My biggest challenge is also trying to educate their parents in an effort to help families in our community make better decisions and choices in their daily lives. Being recognized as the 2013 Governor’s Teacher of the Year and 2013 Fuel Up To Play 60 NJ State Program Advisor of the Year has also encouraged me to continue fighting to educate and help more people in any way I can.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
My middle school students now approach me on a daily basis to show me their food trays at lunch and they can tell me which foods contain the essential nutrients they need. They read the labels to me and even make suggestions as to how we can make our cafeteria food even healthier. I have also developed a wellness club in my school. The goal is to improve the overall wellness of our school population.
Who is your role model in your work?
Dr. Curt Hinson is one of the best physical educators I have had the pleasure of meeting. He was also one of my professors when I was completing my master’s degree. The way he keeps students happy, active and engaged during class should be an inspiration to all PE teachers.
What sport did you play growing up?
Growing up, I was always outside and played every sport that weather would allow. We played basketball in the fall, football in the winter, and my main sport baseball in the spring and summer. I later went on to play college baseball and was invited to a few professional tryouts before beginning my teaching and coaching career.
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