In September 2016, a boy from Lugonia Elementary School in Redlands, California, ran away from school half a dozen times in the first two weeks. Now he makes an effort to attend school every day. Why? Because this fall, Alivia Hibbler ’15 integrated her own physical education program into Lugonia Elementary students’ weekly routine.

Lugonia Elementary students playing soccer.

Hibbler, a kinesiology major with an emphasis in physical education, began teaching PE full time this school year at Lugonia Elementary on a volunteer basis. Prior to her arrival, students had only one trimester of PE per year, and teachers made up the difference of required PE hours by having students walk around the school perimeter for 25 minutes four days a week. Now, she sees 530 students twice a week and teaches nine classes a day.

Earlier this year, this teaching opportunity was nowhere on Hibbler’s radar. Hibbler’s church in Redlands, The River Christian Reformed Church, had already been heavily involved with Lugonia Elementary for a decade prior to her involvement. The River CRC provides volunteers to facilitate reading groups, staff the library, and lead intramurals at lunchtime twice a week for fourth- and fifth-graders.

This intramural program proved to be especially successful in raising the attendance rate of fourth- and fifth-graders, so Lugonia Elementary’s vice principal, Richard Haller, reached out to pastor Nick In’t Hout of The River CRC to ask for an intramural involvement with the rest of the school. In’t Hout had another idea in mind.

Pastor In’t Hout “approached me and pitched the idea of me teaching PE at Lugonia to see if I was interested,” Hibbler said. “I had been flying all over the country for job interviews, but for all the jobs I had been applying for, I knew that the kids at those schools would get quality PE no matter what. But for the kids at Lugonia, I was the only person—if I didn’t teach there, who else would?”

This faithful response to an urgent need in Hibbler’s community led her to create a PE program from scratch in the summer of 2016, which the Redlands Unified School District approved. Hibbler is a full-time teacher and raises her own funds through private donations from individuals, organizations and churches.

Having consistent PE has already changed the hearts and minds of Lugonia Elementary students. “The students are so excited to have PE— I have five to 10 kids that come before school to help set up equipment,” Hibbler said. “There are ways God is using this PE program to do above anything that I can do, and it’s been really cool to be a part of that.”

“There are ways God is using this PE program to do above anything that I can do, and it’s been really cool to be a part of that.”Alivia Hibbler '15

In 2016, the state of California awarded Lugonia Elementary a “Golden Bell Award” for its partnership with The River CRC. Lugonia Elementary was the only school in Redlands Unified School District to receive the award—which recognizes outstanding school programs—on the merit of its improvement in school attendance, reduced suspensions and rise in students’ self-esteem.