Loni Espinoza, a P.E. Teacher That Goes Beyond Measures

Loni getting ready for time trials If I wouldn’t have married my wife, I would have no clue of what it takes for an elementary P.E. teacher to do an “excellent” job. Trust me, I’m not being biased.

Loni Espinoza, who happens to be my wife, teaches at Brush College Elementary in Salem, Oregon – she’s always thinking of the kids first. Loni has two daughters, Kalin (her husband Everett) and Darci (her husband Gino), and two stepsons, Jake (his wife Jennifer) and Matt. She loves all her grandkids, Silas, Luca, Tyson, and Josiah. She is all about health and fitness in a fun way for kids.

Child obesity is at its highest – an alarming rate. CDC (Center of Disease Control) states that 32% of American kids are overweight and 17% of ages 2 – 19 are obese. Many kids are spending less time exercising and more time watching TV, playing video games, and iPhone use.

Exercising is so important to our bodies and it should start at an early age. Loni wants to help as many kids as she can. She introduces sports and active games that keep the children engaged and participating in a fun way. She implements P.E. programs that can help kids presently and in the future.

On an average day, Loni is up early every morning – I’d say about 5:15 a.m. She reads the newspaper and usually works on school paperwork that she could not complete at school – there isn’t enough time with a full schedule. Batches of kids come into her gym one right after the other.

Loni spends extra hours at home planning her activities for all her classes. I see her every night working hard on school projects. Every kid is important to her – that extra time planning is crucial. She wants every kid to participate and not to just stand there watching others.

“It doesn’t make sense to me for a line of kids to be there standing and watching the others. So I organized my activities to never have more than a few students in line,” Loni said.

It’s not just her required work she plans for, but also extra activities outside of school that kids love. For example, the Elks Hoop Shoot competition. This is a competition where she invites every kid in the school to participate. Each student shoots fifteen free throws. There are several age-groups – the top person from each age-group qualifies to advance to the district level. At the district level they shoot 25 free throws.

The Punt Pass and Kick Contest is a well-known competition. Loni organizes volunteers to help spot where the football lands after each kid passes, kicks, or punts the football. Tryouts are held and she coordinates the entire process. Once she determines the winners she records the names, distances, etc. to the NFL committee and deals with any changes. Filling out paperwork and entering data into the NFL website is also another task she completes on her own time.

Country Kids Relays (formerly known as Jaycee Relays) is another activity that is not required by the school. She spends extra time to provide each kid with an opportunity to experience such an amazing event. She holds time trials for the 100 meters – logging each kid’s time. At Brush College Elementary the track is only long enough for 80 meters. She gives each kid an opportunity to prove they are the fastest. Each grade will have a 100 meter relay team for boys, girls, and coed. In addition, there is a race called “The Mayor’s Mile” which is a 1500 meter relay – fourth and fifth graders can try out for this by her standards.

On the day of the kids’ relay event Loni is up very early to drive down to McCulloch Stadium at Willamette University – to set up her school tent in the middle of the field. She normally packs everything in her car the night before. All of the teams from every grade and parent helpers show up on their scheduled time. Loni is there the entire time from morning to evening. She takes pictures and instructs the volunteers. She also times the races and makes it a point to tell each kid how much they improved. When she returns home it’s usually about 7:00 p.m. – she is exhausted. Loni sees how much the kids enjoy this event – the time put in for her is worth all the effort.

What the parents see is their kids racing that day, but really have no clue of the work it takes to make that event happen. I’m grateful not just for Loni’s work, but all of the other P.E. teachers that are doing the same thing – on their own weekend time! That is very generous.

There are more activities and events throughout the school year – the ones I mentioned are just a few. The biggest activity she coordinates and teaches is her “Bouncers” jump rope club. They meet every Thursday after school for practice – which makes it a long day for her after taking care of the equipment and cleaning up. Performances at basketball-game halftimes are regular events every year. She also takes the kids on field trips during the spring so they can perform jump-rope shows. Loni makes it a fun event for all of them.

One time we were at the store shopping for groceries.

“Loni, why are you filling up all those bags with different candies?” I asked.

“My jump rope club voted on an ice cream sundae to celebrate at our end-of-the-year party, and they voted for these toppings,” Loni said.

She goes out of the way to think about them and what makes them happy. She gives out prizes for certain things in her class. She takes time on weekends to pick out toys that the students will enjoy.

Every year she organizes a fifth-grade bowling trip. The top bowler gets a customized bowling pin. Again, not required by the school, but she knows the kids love that. I’m lucky to be her husband, I get to hear about all the good things she does for kids. And now that I’m retired I get to help her with these kids – that’s totally awesome.

Loni has what she calls “Units”. One unit could be teaching kids about basketball. Another unit might be teaching kids about volleyball. Whatever unit she is teaching that week, she takes it seriously and is very organized. Along with that she deals with discipline issues, injuries, parent complaints, etc.

Every teacher has a planning time. Loni has to crunch her planning time with referral notices or a kid that might have missed a time trial, or a fitness test, etc. Her day is non-stop – very busy.

One of the things that really touched my heart was how she figures out a way for every kid to participate. She gets kids that are handicapped from time to time – every year is different. How can you give a kid in a wheelchair the opportunity to exercise? How can you give a kid that has one arm a chance to compete? She thinks until she finds a way.

She once had a student that had one arm. He wanted to join the jump rope club. Loni found a way. She tied the rope in a way that he could use the one arm to swing the rope and jump over it.

Loni coordinates a “Jump Rope for Heart” day. Stations are set up for the kids to jump rope during P.E. class that day. She brings the apple juice and oranges early in the morning – slices the oranges up for the kids to eat. This fund-raiser event brings in thousands for the American Heart Association.

David and Loni at Diamond Lake

At the end of a school year she coordinates an enormous field day for the kids. She makes tons of phone calls to ask for volunteer help. She prepares all of the necessary equipment for games and other activities. This year she is having me build her a “Splash Wall” for field day – a new game the kids will really enjoy. She’s always looking for new games that the kids might have fun with.

Throughout the school year Loni takes many pictures of students and staff. There is a reason for this. Toward the end of the school year she slowly is working on a slide show. This slide show is so special to the entire school – it is shown on the last day of school in the gym. She picks the music to fit what appears on the screen. Loni makes it a point to have every kid and staff member in the slide show.

“When the kids watch this slide show and they see their picture come up, they just go crazy! There are some goofy pictures and some serious pictures – I try to make it fun for everyone,” Loni said.

I have to say that I’m so proud to be her husband and even more proud of her – really love her. I know she has a passion for what she does and I support her one hundred percent. Brush College Elementary is so lucky to have her there. I’ve witnessed her talking to the kids and teaching them so many things. Her compassion and selfless attitude is inspiring. She once showed me a card that one of her students gave her.

“Mrs. Espinoza, you are the most awesomest P.E. teacher in the world!”

I think that says it all. God Bless you Loni – you’re one of a kind.