Michael Baptiste, physical fitness teacher at KIPP Washington Heights Elementary School, shares his passion for helping children in his community live a healthier lifestyle.
Why did you become a teacher and what brought you to KIPP NYC?
I was working as a personal trainer and looking for more stable work when I found Fit for Life. Through the program, I was placed at KIPP Washington Heights Elementary as a part time physical education teacher. I quickly realized this is a special place and I accepted a full time position here. Everything just felt right in terms of what I think kids should be doing and the way I think adults should treat children. I also appreciate that I have professional freedom. My leaders send the message to me, “We think you are intelligent, and that you are doing the right things for kids, so just go do what you do best.”
How have you grown since joining KIPP?
I have changed a lot since I have been here. I am a nicer person. I am a more compassionate person. I think about all sides of a situation before acting. Because of the culture established at KIPP, every adult is learning and growing and getting better along with our students. Everyone is figuring out better ways to serve kids, serve the community, and be better people.
What are your goals for your students?
100% fitness. My class is rigorous and fun, and students work really hard. It is the toughest fitness program you will find. My class is about the continuing fight to end obesity. Rather than trying to sell a program to adults, I can start here with kids, and help put an end the obesity epidemic. It is a beautiful thing to see every day.
What messages do you share with your students about physical fitness?
We talk about four basic principles of fitness. First, I want everyone to understand that fitness is free. We play games where there isn’t a lot of equipment or technology necessary. Second, fitness is progressive, or about progress. When we talk about our workout, we discuss how we are getting better and better. Third, we discuss that fitness is separate from superficiality. Fitness is not about looking better, it is about feeling better. We set goals for accomplishment instead of losing weight. Finally, we learn that fitness is about motivation and determination. It will help you to persist in college and as a professional.
What’s special about working at KIPP Washington Heights Elementary?
Last Friday, I saw one of my 4th graders on his way to his baseball game. The game was at the field around the corner, so I went to see him play. Yesterday, his mom thanked me for coming and said that all he talked about afterwards was that I came. I live in this neighborhood, I teach here, and I get to see my student get a hit in his baseball game. It is beautiful when work and life become one.