Lyseth Teacher named 2021 elementary physical education teacher


Merita McKenzie, a physical education teacher and coach at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland, is the 2021 recipient of the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year award. Dance (MAHPERD). The award recognizes educators who deliver quality programs, serve as positive role models, and are leaders in their profession, school and community.

“For more than three decades, Merita has helped Portland’s children get active, develop healthy habits throughout their lives, and be the best they can be in all aspects of their lives,” said Lyseth’s Deputy Director. , Sarah Rubin. “Merita has spent her career giving back to her students, her community and her profession, and it’s such an amazing way to celebrate her for all she’s done.”

MAHPERD’s criteria for determining the winners of the Teacher of the Year award include:

  • Lead a quality program that reflects an understanding of children’s growth and development
  • Use a variety of teaching methodologies and plan innovative learning experiences to meet individual student needs
  • Serve as a positive role model, embodying personal health and fitness, enjoyment of sportsmanship and sensitivity to students / community
  • Participate in professional development opportunities
  • Provide service to the profession / school / community through leadership, presentations and / or writing

Rubin detailed the ways McKenzie has spent his career serving students and his community:

“As a physical education teacher and trainer, Merita has had a direct positive impact on the lives of thousands of children in Portland. She has written countless grants to provide materials and opportunities for her students to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, have access to engaging and exciting experiences to get and stay active.

During the 2020-2021 school year, a non-traditional year due to COVID-19, Merita completely redesigned her entire physical education curriculum and worked with our Outdoor Learning Coordinator to plan an entire school year outdoors with his students. Merita took the kids outside to participate in specific cooperative games and kinesthetic activities to learn how to work with each other, learn how their bodies work, and learn to take care of themselves. I will never forget one particular winter day, when temperatures hovered around 15 degrees, and Merita had each of her first graders armed with a dozen diapers and a sled ready for some stretching. warm-up, then the sled. Many of our students were only living their second winter in a cold and snowy climate and even more of them did not have the opportunity to experience winter activities like sledding with their families. But Merita made it happen for them and gave them all the gift of enjoying a Maine winter while being active at the same time.

In addition to all that she has done for the physical health of our community, Merita has spent her life leading the work of Equity in Portland. At Lyseth, Merita is a member of our Equity cohort and an advisor and co-founder of our Civil Rights team. She has worked tirelessly in these roles to ensure that all staff and students in Lyseth and the District feel safe and welcome in our schools. She has also volunteered her time in countless ways to lead this city-level work. Merita served on the Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Task Force, as a board member for the restoration of the Abyssinian Meeting House and most recently as a board member of Racial Equity in the City of Portland. She is also a renowned photographer, gardener and a must-have for children and families in her East End neighborhood.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said, “We are very proud of Merita to have received this well-deserved recognition for her dedication and service. She embodies the best of our Portland Public School employees.

To learn more about the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MAHPERD), visit

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