Fit and Healthy: Lawry named community champion


BELLOWS FALLS >> Peter Lawry loved physical education class growing up. Now he teaches PE and inspires kids, even the ones who aren't as fond of PE class, to discover outdoor activities that they find fun and can enjoy for a lifetime.

In recognition of Lawry's tireless commitment to getting kids moving and helping them find fun in outdoor physical pursuits, Lawry is honored as the Windham County Fit & Healthy Kids Coalition's Spring Community Champion.

"Peter Lawry is an outstanding teacher who brings a unique level of dedication to his role," says Keith Nemlich, principal of Central Elementary School in Bellows Falls.

Now in his 12th year teaching physical education, Peter Lawry started at Central only one year out of college.

"It's a great school to work in," he said.

He wanted to give kids the same good experience in PE that he had growing up. Lawry's teachers "taught activities and skills in a way that enabled both learning and having fun, in a caring environment."

Growing up in Claremont, N.H., he learned to cross-country ski, an activity he continues to do. Teaching lifelong physical activities inspires him and they are a big part of his program at Central. Not only because they have been very important in Lawry's life, but because: They can be done with a group or alone; a team (not always available to everyone) is not required; and they can keep people active throughout life. Lawry feels gratified when kids come back to say "hi" and he knows they are active kids with active families.

Lawry started a cross-country ski program at Central several years ago. "Not every kid likes it, of course, so I use games such as doing jumping jacks on skis, to help kids gain comfort and have fun on their skis."

Snowshoeing, ice skating, bicycling, and in-line skating are other lifelong activities that he introduces to kids.

Anita Carlson-Allen, the Central Elementary school nurse, said Peter received the "Teacher of the Year" award in recent years. "He has constantly been growing and changing over his years here and has innovative ways of getting kids active, such as playing golf in the gym. He runs an all-inclusive classroom — involving everyone in PE activities, whether they have medical, cognitive, emotional, social and/or behavioral challenges. No child is ever left out of any activity. He adapts equipment such as sleds and bikes (for children with special needs). He makes being physically active fun."

According to Carlson-Allen, Lawry built a winter sports program by writing for grants, enabling him to purchase snowshoes, cross-country skis and boots, ice skates and helmets.

"He puts in a tremendous amount of time outside of school, going to shops and swaps to get the best deals and getting the equipment in good shape. He is very committed."

Lawry has brought the Kohl's Bike Smart program (through Local Motion) to Central Elementary three years in a row for two weeks each time, offering it before, after and during school, so that every kid who wants to has an opportunity to attend.

"Nothing stops Peter," said Carlson-Allen.

Using music, laughter and innovative games, Lawry focuses on teamwork and cooperation. He emphasizes learning skills, having fun, and being kind and respectful. He helps kids learn by using a variety of methods. In Jump for Heart, he places a large visual of the heart and circulatory system on the floor, and kids run through it to learn how the heart works. He participates in Math Night, combining physical activity with learning math skills and also uses PE skills in literacy and writing. He gets the kids outdoors whenever possible.

"Peter can break down any activity into the most basic steps so that kids can be successful and learn, such as when teaching tennis to kindergarteners," said Nemlich. "He will get students out on skis and snowshoes around the school, then take them on a half day field trip to the high school to use their trails. He takes kids out on a street bicycle ride after they have taken the Bike Smart program, learning skills to ride and be safe."

"It's awesome to watch a kid go from zero to being able to ride within two weeks" said Lawry. He organized a 5K Fun Run last year with some other teachers and started a running club, where kids spend 45 minutes after school running. Eighty students participated in the Fun Run and we'll do it again this year. He is constantly looking for new opportunities."

Lawry also works in the Bellows Falls community, coordinating with the bicycle repair shop so that students can work there to earn themselves a bike or credits for repair of their bike. Lawry's PE job includes teaching the health curriculum that deals with the relationship of mind and body and encompasses healthy eating. He helps in the lunch room, by monitoring what the meals are, what kids eat and what they throw away. He is the main motivator behind the taste tests during the lunch hour, encouraging kids to try new healthy foods prepared in interesting ways.

What does Lawry do when he's not working?

"Run,: he said. He has run marathons and 50K trail races. He prefers trails, being away from cars and in nature (while running at Pisgah State Park he saw a moose and a bear). In winter, he cross-country skis. He and his wife run together often and she keeps track of their distances and keeps him motivated.

Lawry said "Being a part of seeing the huge gains students make with motor skills is very rewarding," and he hopes to teach for a long time.

Upon hearing of Lawry's Community Champion award by the Windham County Fit and Healthy Kids Coalition, Nemlich had only praise for Lawry.

"Peter's technique and delivery are very effective. He is very consistent in his demeanor. He never gets 'riled up." I am so pleased to hear that the he is being recognized for his fine efforts."

The Fit & Healthy Kids Coalition of Windham County works together to foster practices, programs and policies that engage the community in raising fit and healthy children. Community Champion awards are given seasonally to those who go above and beyond to promote physical activity and healthy eating.

For more information, find Fit and Health Kids on Facebook of visit

Kathleen White is the coordinator of Fit and Healthy Kids. She can be contacted at


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