Merita McKenzie, physical education teacher and coach at Lyseth Elementary School, is the winner of the 2021 Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award, which is given by the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (MAHPERD) to recognize educators who conduct quality programs, serve as positive role models and are leaders in their profession, school and community.

Merita McKenzie

“Merita has spent her career giving back to her students, her community, and her profession, and this is such an incredible way to celebrate her for everything she has done,” said Lyseth Assistant Principal Sarah Rubin.

Rubin detailed the ways McKenzie has spent her career in service of students and her community:

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

In the 2020-2021 school year … Merita completely redesigned her entire PE curriculum and worked with our Outdoor Learning coordinator to plan for an entire school year outside with her students … I will never forget one particular winter day, when temperatures hovered around 15 degrees, and Merita had every single one of her first-grade students armed with a dozen layers and a sled ready to do some warm up stretches and then sled. Many of our students were experiencing only their second winter in a cold, snowy climate and even more of them don’t get 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 getting active at the same time.

In addition … Merita has spent a lifetime leading Equity work in Portland. At Lyseth, Merita is a member of our Equity cohort and an advisor and co-founder for our Civil Rights Team. She has worked tirelessly in these roles to ensure all staff and students at Lyseth and in the district feel safe and welcomed in our schools. She has also volunteered her time in countless ways to lead this work at the city level. Merita has 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 member of the City of Portland’s Racial Equity Board.”

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.