The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Friday that Gov. Sam Brownback will recognize longtime Lawrence teacher Michel Loomis on Thursday at the Kansas State Fair for being a champion of health.
Loomis, an English teacher at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, will receive an “individual honorable mention” award for “going above and beyond her classroom responsibilities to promote youth fitness.”
Loomis, 67, began working at Liberty Memorial Central 31 years ago as a physical education teacher, and then she taught English and physical education classes for many years until moving to just English a few years ago.
However, she still educates students about the importance of exercise and nutrition every chance she gets.
“She’s given a lot to this school,” said Jeff Harkin, the school’s new principal. “I think she always has a pet project — something else she’s promoting beyond the classroom.”
Among her projects:
• Two-mile fun run. About 25 years ago, Loomis said another PE teacher, Mark Hodges, came up with a “great idea” to have a fun run, so she helped organize it and they had 69 students show up on a Saturday. Then, Hodges left Liberty Memorial Central the next year, so she decided to keep it going and turned it into an annual fundraiser. Every year, the 2-mile event raises about $20,000 for the school and every student participates — whether they walk, jog or run. This year’s event will be Nov. 2.
• Smart Strength program. Loomis launched the after-school program for students four years ago with the help of Chad Richards, owner of a Lawrence fitness center called The Summit. Richards provides four or five trainers for the program, which is held twice a week. They do exercises that work on everything from strength to agility to flexibility. They usually start with group warm-ups and then break down into smaller groups. After a water break, they play volleyball, dodgeball, basketball or some other game.
The trainers and Loomis also teach the students about nutrition and will challenge them from time to time; for example, not to drink soda for two weeks.
The program started with 20 students and has grown to 70. Last year, staff members began participating as well.
“It makes for a really wonderful environment. You have young people cheering on the teachers who are struggling to get their eighth and ninth and 10th push-up in,” Loomis said.
The program costs about $10,000 a year, so Loomis raises money by writing grants and distributing brochures about the program. Some of the money from the fun run is used to support the Smart Strength program.
• Morning gym. Loomis opens the school’s gym at 7:30 a.m. each day, so students can socialize and burn some energy; it’s something she started many years ago. About 100 students use the gym and typically there are several basketball games going on. The gym is referred to as “The Loomis Gym.”
Anna Stubblefield, former school principal at Liberty Memorial Central, said Loomis is not only a champion of health, but also of education in general.
“She has the unique ability to build those relationships with students to get them to go above and beyond — inside the classroom and outside the classroom,” Stubblefield said. “She’s really amazing.”
Loomis also practices what she preaches. She participates in yoga and spinning classes and does strength training with Richards, who is her personal trainer.
“I feel like she’s kind of a pit bull. She’s relentless,” he said.
Richards said he commonly hears from Loomis’ former students, who say she influenced them to be a better person or live a healthier life.
“She changes people’s lives that’s for sure. She’s an angel on this Earth,” he said.
This year’s Kansas health champions are Rick Werling, a recently retired superintendent of Fort Scott’s public school district, and the Derby Recreation Commission. Other honorable mention recipients were Ashland Fitness Center and Kansas Recreation and Park Association.