The thing about Kristen Muir Heeren is she’s always turning work into fun.
“Do you want to help me get some of these green sheets, Ellie?”
It’s a typical afternoon at North Davis Elementary School and Heeren, the Physical Education teacher, is making things happen. Getting a first grader excited about picking up worksheets from teachers is easy for her, because she’s all about getting kids moving, whatever the reason.
“Ethan, which class do you want to go to next?”
As we talk we are walking–it’s very hard to get Kristen to stand still. In her trademark pigtails and sun visor she’s as strong as she is energetic–always moving and forever passionate about making sure kids at North Davis are moving, too. And for Heeren, being athletic isn’t defined by joining a sports team or winning gold medals–it’s about finding the fitness in every day fun.
“If we’re doing upper body strength on the jungle gym, I’m not going to have them doing pull ups. That would be boring. So we play a game called Hot Lava Monster, where they try to hold onto the bar as long as they can and this builds their upper body strength.”
Kristen says by fourth grade these kids have arm strength they never realized they could have–all because they consistently played a playground game. To her, that’s the true definition of athletic–getting fit and healthy any way you can. Her jumprope assemblies are infamous on campus–and events like May is Bike Month and the Dolphin Dash Race are a few of Kristen’s big pushes.
Heeren has been teaching at NDES for 7 years, where she started as a parent volunteer. Now a full-time presence with all grade levels, Kristen’s phys ed program called “Kids in Motion” is so popular it’s used at another Davis elementary school and won an award from the Governor’s office. With a PhD in Clinical Psychology and careers in Special Education and Psychology, Heeren says it’s physical education that now drives her to make a difference in kids’ lives every day.
“Just because you’re not good in soccer doesn’t mean you’re not good in other things and it doesn’t mean that you’re not athletic. That’s the mentality of our culture– if you play certain sports you’re athletic and if you play these other ones you’re not. That’s not true.”
She says growing up she never considered herself athletic. It was only after taking kick-boxing classes when her first son was born that she realized that getting in shape was attainable–if it was fun. From there she took her career in a new direction, starting up the Phys Ed program as a new parent at North Davis to spread the word that anyone can be an athlete. And that’s the goal she aspires to each and every day on the black top at North Davis Elementary—to inspire, challenge and ultimately strengthen kids both physically and mentally–to realize athletic potential in whatever tasks they may accomplish.
“There are so many other ways of being physically fit. You don’t have to be good in sports. There are so many other things that you can do.”