“Overwhelmed, excited and honored” were the words Riverhead teacher Samantha Heidtmann used to describe being named a Project Fit America’s 2014 National All Star Teacher of the Year.
Ms. Heidtmann, who has been teaching physical education at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School for 13 years, is one of just six teachers across the country to earn the honor this year.
In a ceremony attended by her co-workers, school administrators and her husband, Jeff, Roanoke Avenue’s fourth-grade student council surprised Ms. Heidtmann with the award Monday afternoon.
“I had no idea this was happening,” Ms. Heidtmann told the room. “All I can say is ‘thank you.’ ”
Project Fit America’s National All Star Teacher of the Year Award recognizes educators that go above and beyond instituting the program aimed at fighting childhood obesity by keeping them active. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the child obesity rate in America has more than doubled since 1980, with a third of all children and adolescents now considered overweight.
Project Fit couples exercise with an understanding of math, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, said Bill Groth, the district’s athletic director.
“She makes it really fun,” said 10-year-old student Emelin Boch. “I get excited for every single gym day.”
Ms. Heidtmann, of Southold, was nominated for the award by a Project Fit trainer, who helped kick-start the program at Roanoke.
“Samantha stands out as head of the class,” a press release from Project Fit America states. “She has the spirit, energy, dedication and commitment that earns her the status of All Star. She is an outstanding role model for her peers and the physical education profession.”
Fellow physical education teacher Michelle Santoro said Ms. Heidtmann has had a passion for Project Fit America program since it was introduced Riverhead’s five elementary schools in 2013.
“When Project Fit came, she jumped right in,” Ms. Santoro said. “She has made [the program] her own. She deserves this.”
Ms. Heidtmann said her own three children —ages 3, 4 and 6 — help her come up with engaging fitness ideas to bring into the classroom.
“With my kids at home, if they don’t like something, they are not going to do it,” she said.
Rising to the top to help out the people around them isn’t exactly news to the Heidtmann family, however. In 2014, The Suffolk Times named Mr. Heidtmann its “Person of the Year” after he saved the life of his 85-year-old neighbor, Robert Frey.
Her husbanded joked that Ms. Heidtmann treats their children like “guinea pigs” for program ideas.
“She is very open and works hard at what she does,” Mr. Heidtmann said.
Mr. Groth added that Ms. Heidtmann has a reputation for “planting positive seeds” to help children reach their full potential.
“[Ms. Heidtmann] has a natural ability to relate to the kids,” he said. “She recognizes each student for their own uniqueness.”
The Project Fit Program, which is being conducted in 45 states nationwide, is made possible here through grants from PBMC Health, the Suffolk County Lions Diabetes Education Foundation and Brickman Group landscaping and turf maintenance.
“We are so excited to be a part of Project Fit,” Riverhead School District superintendent Nancy Carney said. “[Ms. Heidtmann] has excelled in bringing the program to the kids at Roanoke. We are proud of her.”