If you explore the Twitter page for Virginia Beach City Public School’s Adapted PE Department (@Beach_APE), you’ll see pictures of all the creative and progressive ways students with disabilities are given the chance to train, compete and experience the joy and pride of athletic participation. One person featured quite prominently is Robert Mages, an adaptive physical education (PE) teacher for Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS). He recently was named the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (VAHPERD) 2018 Adapted Physical Educator of the Year.
Mages is quite humble about the award.
“I’m a PE teacher who just happens to work with kids with special needs.”
Justin Haegele, assistant professor with Old Dominion University’s (ODU) Department of Human Movement Sciences, nominated Mages for the VAHPERD award. “He is a thoughtful and enthusiastic teacher who has the best interest of his students in mind at all times,” he wrote of Mages. “He is the type of teacher I want my daughters to have when they are in school.”
Jane DeBord, administrative coordinator with the Special Education Annex, echoed that sentiment.
“His enthusiasm for the work he does with students with motor challenges quickly transfers to the PE environment. By individualizing instruction to meet the child’s unique abilities, Rob is able to have a positive impact on student achievement in the PE setting.”
DeBord also credits Mages for VBPCS’ highly-respected place in the adapted physical education community.
This career path was not one that Mages imagined he would be taking when he got out of the Marines in 2005. An interest in personal training led to studies at ODU, where he was inspired by the national obesity epidemic to get children more active. His first job with VBCPS was at Landstown High School, where he taught adaptive PE as a long-term substitute. A subsequent, permanent substitute position led to his current job at the Special Education Annex.
Along the way, something special happened.
“I fell in love with the kids,” he said. “The reason why I’m still here, and why I still do this and haven’t applied to be a high school PE teacher or a middle school PE teacher or an elementary school PE teacher, (is because) I get to develop these relationships with kids. I’ve had students I’ve been with from fourth grade until they graduated high school. I get to transition with students from elementary school to middle school to high school. When they’re in a completely new environment and things are scary for them, I’m that familiar face. It can help them with the transition and access that new PE space.”
Mages is working on his master’s degree and is excited about his current focus on personal training for students with autism. He’s not sure about where he’ll be in a decade, but he knows he’s where he belongs now – especially when he sees firsthand breakthroughs with his students.
”Going there for weeks and getting no response, and then all of the sudden, I come in and the student grabs my hand and leads me off to do whatever. Now I’m that trusted individual. Now we’re ready to start learning. That puts a bounce in my step the rest of the day.”
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