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Multiplication isn't just for math class these days, at least if you have James O'Connell for physical education. “I always kind of knew that if there was a way to collaborate more with our staff, it would help strengthen the fact that PE matters,” said O’Connell, who has really focused on making PE cross-curricular.

His students at Freedom Elementary try a math problem at the beginning of class, then exercise and try it again, often showing improvement. However, it doesn't take elaborate research to know exercise matters in more ways than one.

“If we're doing math while working out, and we can see some type of improvement from the start of class to the end of class, then there you go. It just shows that something's happening to make them perform better, you know, with math from exercise,” said O’Connell. 

Even though exercise is a huge part of his life, it wasn’t always that way for Mr. O'Connell. “I was one who was not really athletic. One who didn't work out, and one who didn't care that much about fitness. I just wanted to play baseball and call it a day.”

Eventually he realized the importance, which fueled his passion to become a PE teacher. In turn, he wants his students to be passionate about a healthy lifestyle. That's why he got heart rate monitors for his classes.

“I knew that the kids were going to be more inclined to exercise if they could see what they were doing in their results,” said O’Connell, who admits it’s not always easy to get students to buy-in, but he lives for the progress he sees.

“A successful day for me is when our kids come to class, a little tired, a little unmotivated, but leave the class, happy smiling, talking, laughing. You can see the difference on their faces. But then you can also see them talking to each other more than they were before. Or they're even, just moving around our facilities and our campuses a little bit more uplifted and motivated after they leave PE class.”

It's no secret, physical education has been on the chopping block nationwide. That is something Mr. McConnell hopes will change if people really see the benefits.

“I understand history, English, math and science. They make an impact for our students. I get that and they're lifelong, but so is movement. You need to have movement and you need to have that exercise.”