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November 1, 2019

In the Spotlight: Danielle Hnath '14; p.e. Teacher

Danielle Hnath is pursuing her professional passion: instructing children from Pre-K to 5th grade on exercise and healthy living. She works as a Physical Education teacher PS 193 (Whitestone), a job she's held since 2015.

Danielle's road to her current position brought her through St. Francis College, where she enrolled as a transfer student from SUNY Farmingdale. She went on to obtain a Master's degree in 2018, through an online program offered by Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Her work history includes a year at private Catholic school, before being offered a role with the New York City Department of Education.

Danielle reflected on her experience at St. Francis and on her professional achievements.

You've had a couple big accomplishments at work in your first couple years. Can you speak about those?

My first year, I received the Certificate of Appreciation from our Community Education Council. My principal nominated me for that because she said that I came in and really changed the school culture when it came to physical education.

My school also works very closely with the American Heart Association and last year we raised close to $11,000 for The Kids' Heart Challenge [note: read about Danielle's fundraising initiative and her promise to dye her hair blue if students met their fundraising goals here].

How else have you contributed at your job?

We started a Wellness Council at my school and our mission is to provide opportunities for staff and students to improve their wellness. My Principal brought the idea to me, and I became the Co-Champion of it. I run it with another teacher. About 10 other staff members are on the Council.

I have a morning program for third through fifth graders where they come in for an hour in the morning, three days a week, and we work on improving their physical fitness. For teachers, we do programs such as The Biggest Loser [a weight-loss competition] and we've hosted yoga events for our school community. Just getting people more involved with physical activity.

How did you get your current job?

I got my job through PE Works. They sent me an email that the city was starting this new initiative to get licensed phys ed teachers into elementary school.

I applied and thought, "we'll see what happens from here." I went on an interview with the Office of School Wellness and was put on the hiring list. And then I went to a job fair and I met my Principal there.

You came to St. Francis as a transfer student. How did you decide on that?

I was looking at local colleges that had Phys Ed. When I went to visit St. Francis -- it sounds silly -- when I walked into the lobby it just felt like I was home. It felt like a place where I belong. Growing up, I always went to Catholic schools, and it was that same kind of environment: small and really friendly. So I was like, "this is for me."

Even the security officers downstairs were always like "good morning, how are you doing?" It just makes you want to go to school.

What stands out about the educational environment here?

The professors made the experience very personal. The fact that it was small classes, I felt like the instruction was personalized.

Is there a faculty member at St. Francis that was particularly instrumental to you?

Dr. [Gerard] Shaw, because he really cared about each and every one of us. I feel like he got to know us as people, not just as students. He made class interesting and got us all involved. He was like the father of our little family (we had 15 students in the program at that time). The way he was with us made me like St. Francis even more.

As part of earning your St. Francis degree, you were a student teacher at MS 74 in Bayside. Did that experience inform your teaching?

Absolutely. I'm the teacher I am today because of my cooperating teacher. Everything she taught me, I use in my class today. She modeled for me how I should be teaching. I took her style and information and translated it into my classes.

Do Franciscan values factor into the way you instruct children?

Yes, definitely. Teaching kids to always give your best. Respecting and being kind to each other is part of the everyday conversation I have with the kids.

What makes you most proud in your current job?

I feel really proud that the kids understand the importance of physical fitness and being active throughout their lives. Before me there was no phys ed teacher here. So it's nice now that I'm in my fifth year as a teacher, to see the kids have an understanding of what happens to their bodies as they exercise, and seeing their skills just grow each year that I have them.

I see myself being a phys ed teacher for the next 30 years. This is what I'm passionate about. I love being with my kids and getting them active and making it fun for them. I recently had a former student come back and visit and tell me she wants to be a physical education teacher.

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