State group honors Bollman Bridge schoolteacher

November 13, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

By day, he teaches physical education to dozens of students at Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Jessup, five times a week. By night, and on weekends, he coaches the Howard County Kangaroo Kids jump rope team and his son's basketball team.

It's all in a week's work for James E. McCleary, recently named Physical Education Teacher of the Year among the state's elementary school teachers by the Maryland Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

"He's just an exceptional person," said Jackie French, Howard County's supervisor of physical education and the one who nominated Mr. McCleary for the award. "He comes alive in front of the students."

A Howard County physical education teacher for 21 years, Mr. McCleary will compete with teachers from other Northeastern states for a regional award, which will be announced early next year.

But he spends little time thinking about winning prizes. Instead, he fixes his attention on his students and the busy schedule he maintains.

"When I was nominated for the award, I knew I had done a lot of things, but I didn't think I had much of a chance of winning," Mr. McCleary said. "There are teachers that do just as much as I do. I just enjoy being out among people."

Born in Athens, Tenn., a town of 12,054, Mr. McCleary spent most of his youth traveling because his father was in the Army. The family settled in Maryland 25 years ago, when his father was transferred to Fort Meade.

Mr. McCleary, who lives in Elkridge, moved to Howard County in 1973 to begin teaching after he received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Morgan State University in Baltimore.

"He's an extremely flexible person," said Kim Morris, who teaches physical education with Mr. McCleary at Bollman Bridge. "He's always willing to learn. I learn from him; he learns from me."

The Physical Education Teacher of the Year award is the latest in a series of awards for Mr. McCleary.

Others include the Elkridge Kiwanis Club's Teacher of the Year in 1982; a Merit Award in Physical Education from the Maryland Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in 1985; and a Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding contribution to Howard County students from the school superintendent and the chairman of the Board of Education in 1987.

Ms. Morris and students attribute much of his success to his "never say can't" attitude.

During a recent floor hockey lesson at Bollman Bridge, for example, Mr. McCleary pressed the group of fifth-graders to demonstrate the skills he was teaching, sometimes challenging the students one-on-one.

"If I take the [puck] away from you, you have to jump over the hockey stick 20 times," he told the class.

The students appreciated his demanding, no-nonsense manner.

"He tries to make everything hard -- not like too hard so you can't do it -- hard so that it's challenging," said 10-year-old Katie Schemm, a fifth-grader in Mr. McCleary's floor hockey class.

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