Josephine Zimmel, who has taught physical education at Garlough Environmental Magnet School in St. Paul for 16 years, says she’s fortunate that her four children, now adults, were active growing up, but she realizes not all parents today are as lucky.

Times have changed, and kids today seem more likely to plug in and less likely to go out to play and stay active, she said.

Her work trying to change that was rewarded this month with a Public Health Achievement Award presented by the Dakota County Board of Commissioners. The award was presented to three local recipients who have made contributions to a healthier community.

Over the years, Zimmel has helped implement various programs to enhance the physical education curriculum at Garlough.

Running and math don’t usually go together, but at Garlough, they do. An exercise that combines running races with solving math problems is one innovative activity Zimmel said has been a success at the school. Another, called “Jamming Minutes,” has kids doing one minute of physical activity for every hour in the classroom. Zimmel also has introduced the use of pedometers to fourth-graders at the school so they can track their steps during the school day.

For Zimmel, the games have a serious impact on children. She said the increase in activity can build confidence, enhance academic achievement and help create “good thinkers with good social skills.”

An internal committee evaluates the nominations for the health advocate award, said Dakota County Public Health Director Bonnie Brueshoff. The selection criteria include leadership, collaboration advocacy, role-modeling, public health contribution and evidence of impact.

Zimmel is “an amazing physical education teacher,” said Garlough Principal Sue Powell.

Zimmel was quick to point out that the staff at Garlough deserved to share in the recognition for their commitment to keeping students physically active. And the school’s “early adopter” attitude toward new techniques in getting kids moving is also a factor in the program’s success, Zimmel added.

She said she is honored by the award but she is not slowing down.

The educator spoke passionately about other programs she would like to see at the school, including an “active learning classroom” where students move actively around the room while learning the day’s lessons.

The two other Public Health Achievement awards went to Greg Michael, an advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota, and the Hastings Boomer Advisory Council.


Lannie Walker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.