Happy Valley PE teacher Melanie Flink with fourth grader Lyla who is the artist of the sign hanging on the door

Her student Jesse says she is the “best PE teacher in the world!” And, according to her colleagues in physical education, this is an absolutely true statement.

Melanie Flink, physical education specialist at Happy Valley Elementary School and elementary PE department chair in Bellingham Public Schools, has been named the 2021 Physical Education Teacher of the Year in Washington state. Sponsored by the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) Washington, she was presented the state award in October. Her name and nomination is now moved into the western district (11 states) SHAPE PE teacher of the year competition.

Flink has taught in Bellingham Public Schools for 8 years and has become a leader in physical education in the state and nationally and is a vibrant collaborator among her peers.

Nic Castona, Parkview Elementary PE specialist, is one of her PE colleagues who recommended her for the SHAPE award. He shared in his letter of recommendation that he is “amazed at the intentionality and passion she brings to her job” and appreciates how much she is willing to share and collaborate with other teachers.

“She often writes complete units, rubrics and curriculum materials that are adopted by others in our group,” Castona wrote. “Her material has always been current, innovative and aligned to the latest and best practices.”

“Her positive attitude and outstanding work has set the bar high for P.E. teachers in our district and she inspires those around her to grow and improve their practice as well.”

Another one of her colleagues Tonian Gray, PE Specialist at Silver Beach, also describes Flink’s inspirational way when adding to her nomination. “Melanie is the heart and soul of our PE program for the elementary level here in Bellingham,” Gray writes. “She always keeps us up to date on the latest best practices and encourages us to support one another by doing that very thing for all of us.”

“She truly has made me a better teacher with her constant support and knowledge in health and fitness. She finds the spark in each of us and lights the fire within us to be better.”

In response to her SHAPE teacher of the year award, Flink shared how this award reflects on more than just her, and also used this response to advocate for even more opportunity to develop physical literacy throughout the school day. She truly “lights the fire” of physical education in everything she does.

Flink writes:
“I am beyond proud of this recognition on so many levels. First, I am proud of how this recognition speaks to the personal and professional achievement that accompanies this award. I consider myself to be a ‘champion of wellness’ in whatever personal or professional circle I ever find myself in. As a physical education specialist, this means instilling the foundational skills, knowledge, and values of physical literacy in my elementary students so they can grow up with the confidence to lead physically active and healthy lifestyles. Being validated for this work, something I am so very passionate about, feels amazing. Secondly, this recognition is not only about me. This literally would not be possible without a supportive community like the one we have at Happy Valley. The students at Happy Valley inspire me to dream big dreams, and our staff and parents are open-minded and willing to help me champion any idea I bring to the table. Lastly, I believe this recognition is a direct reflection of the dedication, advocacy, growth, and collaboration of our elementary physical education team.  I am forever learning and growing and the elementary PE team, in addition to my colleagues on the SHAPE Washington Executive Board, have certainly been a large part of my ripple in this regard.

Additionally, I hope this recognition further highlights the importance of increasing opportunities for developing physical literacy throughout the school day in our district. This is especially important, now more than ever, as our students experience the side effects of everything the pandemic has brought to the surface.  I consider physical education to be like a social-emotional movement lab; it melds the physical, social and emotional dimensions of wellness together into one experience.  While this recognition clearly identifies the possibilities of what’s currently achievable within our district, I believe we can do even better in providing more frequent opportunities for students to have these experiences.”

Since 2013, Flink has taught in Birchwood, Happy Valley, Lowell and Northern Heights elementary schools and has served as the department coordinator for elementary physical education since 2015. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Education in Physical Education and Health from Western Washington University (2011) and a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Teacher Leadership from Concordia University (2017). Flink has served on the SHAPE Washington executive board, and frequently presents at state conferences advocating for physical education state-wide and beyond.  In 2015, she represented the state of Washington at the National SPEAK Out Day in Washington, DC, lobbying for the inclusion of physical education and health education with the definition of a “well-rounded education” in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In 2015, she was the recipient of the SHAPE America National Mabel Lee Award for dedication to her profession.

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