Pam Courtney, 2004 Freida J. Riley Award

Written by on May 15, 2004 in 2004, Educator, Frieda J. Riley Award

Pam Courtney

Pam Courtney

Hubert H. Bancroft Elementary School
Sacramento, California

The recipient of the 2004 Freida J. Riley Teacher Award was Pam Courtney, a full-time PE teacher at Hubert H. Bancroft Elementary School in Sacramento, California. She teaches students from grades 1-6, including those in the Special Education program. The award was presented to Ms. Courtney at the West Virginia Teachers Launching Future Explorers luncheon in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Miss Courtney, a former Junior Olympic athlete, earned her teaching credential in 1984. That same year, while in training for the 1988 Olympics bicycling team, she was severely injured in an automobile accident, losing the use of her legs. After a difficult and challenging recovery, she persevered and became a Physical Education (PE) teacher, in spite of being confined to a wheelchair.

To teach, reach and meet the needs of students with diverse abilities, Miss Pam, as she is known to her students, does not limit her classes to the usual PE program. She has developed a curriculum that makes it easy and fun for the children to learn anatomy, physiology, dance routines, nutrition, good sportsmanship, positive character development, and leadership skills. She is the director of Bancroft’s annual musical production which requires over eight weeks of after-school practice for upwards of 130 students as they develop a spectacular show of songs, dances, skits, and many other talents. She looks for the area in which each individual child can excel.

Pam imparts her joy of life, enthusiasm, and optimism to the students, their families, and her colleagues at every opportunity. To illustrate the admiration that the students and the community have for Pam, one only has to look back to the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. Using the athletes as an example, Pam talked with her students about the importance of working toward a goal in life and putting forth your best effort. Little did she know that more than 500 letters from students, staff, parents and community members had been written to nominate her to be an Olympic Torch Bearer. Because of the community support, she was chosen as one of two “community heroes” for this honor.

Pam was a Junior Olympic gold medalist at age ten, and her dream was to be an Olympic athlete. Being a Torch Bearer brought her close to realizing that dream. On the day she carried the Olympic Torch, she stopped often to pump her fist high in the air. She tearfully told a reporter, “I’m so proud to be an American right now. I can’t believe it!” That pride was shared throughout the community. Her route was lined with nearly 200 students and their families carrying banners and shouting her name. As she passed the Torch to the next runner, she passed the Olympic spirit to the children.

Pam Courtney serves her students and the community in many ways. Her dedication to teaching is evident to anyone who has had the pleasure to know her. A parent shared the following story:

“The most illustrative moment to me of Pam’s teaching occurred when I was up on a ladder in the back of the gym at 6:30 p.m., decorating a bulletin board. Miss Pam and a sixth grade student came in. The student wanted very much to perform in the talent show, but was having difficulty learning the dance steps and couldn’t maintain the beat, and was worried some students were going to making fun of her. I turned around when the music started and watched as Pam rolled along across the gym in her wheelchair. She slowly and patiently counted out the steps for the student and worked with her for about half an hour until the student learned the steps. Pam finally left the school. The student could dance to the beat. Pam, a die-hard sports fan, was late to the Sacramento Kings basketball game that had started at 7:00 p.m. And I, the parent, had tears running down my face. A teachable moment was captured and a child was taught to dance by a dedicated woman in a wheelchair.”


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