A sporting good choice

Ask El Roble physical education teacher Terri Kegans, who helps run her family’s longstanding Ducey Swim School and is an incorrigible volunteer, how she does it all. Her answer is emphatic: teamwork.

It’s true that Ms. Kegans relies heavily on her fellow PE teachers, who exemplify the camaraderie that prompted the California Department of Education to name El Roble Intermediate School a 2013 California Distinguished School.

However, Ms. Kegans’ individual efforts—which include chairing the El Roble PE department and instituting the school’s junior lifeguard program and swim and water polo clubs (again, she insists, with plenty of help)—stand out enough that she has been named the Claremont Unified School District’s 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year.

Typically, a winning educator is lured to a school board meeting under an elaborate ruse in order to ensure optimum surprise when their name is announced as Teacher of the Year. In Ms. Kegan’s case, little subterfuge was needed. A perennial team player, she had already planned to head to the Thursday, May 16 gathering to join her colleagues in cheering as the board recognized El Roble’s Distinguished School standing. Her own award-winning status only began to dawn on her when the description of the Teacher of the Year, delivered by Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Kevin Ward, began to echo her own biography.

“It was a complete surprise,” Ms. Kegans said of the moment she was called to the front of the board room to accept her award, joined by her proud family.

While she may have been caught off guard, the El Roble community has resoundingly applauded her selection. Ms. Kegans first joined CUSD in 1985, team teaching a combination fourth/fifth grade class at Vista del Valle Elementary. She took a few years off when her children were born and then, when she was ready to get back to work, she received a hot tip that a position teaching PE at El Roble was open. Experience on the pool deck was considered a decided plus, so Ms. Kegans was an ideal candidate.

She took the position in 1992, job-sharing the position for a number of years with PE teacher Debbie Foster, a set-up that allowed Ms. Kegans to volunteer a couple days a week in her kids’ classrooms. Then, in 2004, she began working full time.

From the start, Ms. Kegans has thrown herself into countless programs aimed at making El Roble students fit and well-rounded, including helping coordinate the school’s annual Bike-A-Thon, a philanthropic effort that has seen the students raise thousands of dollars over the years for the Red Cross. (With the local Red Cross chapter now closed, the teens biked to benefit a local homeless shelter this year).

She volunteers after school teaches students who have never been in a pool before how to swim so that they can join their friends at pool parties and generally become more secure and confident.

 “In junior high, it’s very embarrassing not to be able to swim. These lessons are private, not in front of their peers,” Ms. Kegans said.

Her goal is not only to get the kids swimming so they can dive in with their peers but to get their skills strong enough that they can supervise others, such as babysitting charges. Ms. Kegans is so adept at cultivating kids’ lifesaving skills that she counts among her former students a real-life hero.

Robin Solas, a student who had taken Ms. Kegans’ Junior Lifeguard course, had agreed to lifeguard for a group of 3-year-olds at a children’s party. She did great, Ms. Kegans said. After the kids left the pool and a man playfully knocked a friend, who wasn’t a strong swimmer, into the pool. As the man began to climb out, the joker and another bystander left the scene, perhaps in search for a towel he could use to dry off. Unbeknownst to them, the man hit his head in the process and never left the pool.

The adults seemed paralyzed by the crisis, but Robin, who was then 13, sprang into action. She retrieved the man from the pool, opened his airway and performed CPR until paramedics arrived. He spent 3 days in the hospital with no brain activity but eventually made a full recovery. The EMTs told the girl that he would certainly have died without her efforts. Later that year, Robin was awarded the Junior Claremont Community Hero Award at the LA County Fair.

Ms. Kegans wants her students to learn to be wary and prepared, because every year you hear of families who fall prey to torrential waters, even in places like the LA River. The problem, according to Ms. Kegans? They don’t understand the famous quote by Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, founder of the Red Cross: “Water can be your best friend or a deadly enemy.”

It is a lesson that Ms. Kegans has learned firsthand. She grew up in Claremont in a water- and sports-loving family. Her father, Ted Ducey, was a basketball coach at Claremont McKenna College and the founder of the Ducey Swim School which, since 1973, has operated out of The Claremont Club. Mr. Ducey made sure all 6 of his children exercised regularly and worked on the pool deck at the swim school.

“We learned how to have patience with children and learned to help run the busineness. He made sure we all felt important,” Ms. Kegans said.

When Ms. Kegans, a 1977 Claremont High School graduate, was 15, tragedy struck. Her family was out on the Colorado River, helping to build a fishing retreat for her grandparents, when a flash flood blew through the canyon. She and her mother and brother, who was in sixth grade, were saved after a harrowing close-call. Mr. Ducey, who was last seen helping other flood victims, was among the 10 people who died that day. His body was never found.

The remaining Ducey’s were taken under the wing of the Red Cross, who took the family to Boulder, Nevada, some 40 miles away. The family was pretty beat up, with cuts and abrasions from the flood debris, so the Red Cross sent them to the hospital. When they were deemed well enough to leave, the Red Cross put them up in a hotel until family could arrive.

“They took care of us,” Ms. Kegans said simply.

Ever since that experience, Ms. Kegans has devoted hours of volunteering to the Red Cross and, in general, has had a passion for giving back.

“My father and mother have been very influential in my life,” she said.  “They both valued education and had strong work ethics and integrity. Family came first—they modeled dedication, compassion and friendship.”

These were lessons that helped Ms. Kegans as she moved on in her life, graduating from Citrus College and the University of Arizona with a degree in teaching and a minor in physical education. She married a fellow CHS alum Scott Kegans, owner of A&B Electric, and they have gone on to have 3 children: Kylie, 27, Resse, 25, and Dylan, 18. This summer, she will join some 100 relatives camping at Lake Powell, the 51st year of this delightful family tradition.

She has remained a driving force at the Ducey Swim School and, of course, at El Roble, a job that has brought her endless pleasure.

“Teaching junior high kids is fabulous. They come in like preschoolers,” Ms. Kegan said. “They want to learn it all, to do it all. They want to be independent, but they still know they need guidelines. They’re curious, they’re clever, they’re happy.”

Along with curriculum highlights like helping to organize the El Roble Olympics, Ms. Kegan shared that the accomplishment that has made her most happy is helping to bring a state-of-the-art gymnasium to Claremont.

When Ms. Kegans came to El Roble, the school was sadly lacking in the area of athletic facilities.

“On hot days, we sat under the Sycamore trees and used the hose bib to cool down,” she laughed. “On rainy days, we went into the locker room and you’d have 100 girls on one side and 100 boys on the other and we’d play sit-down volleyball.”

Then, more than a dozen years ago, “a perfect storm” convened to help bring a gym, complete with a fitness lab, to the local junior high. While attending a conference in San Diego, the El Roble PE staff visited an Olympic training site. On the site, there was a sign that said, ‘Future gymnasium site.” They posed in front of the auspicious sign and put it on the office door of then-principal Eric Andrews.

In 2000, Measure Y came up on the ballot, asking voters to authorize CUSD to issue up to $48 million in general obligation bonds. El Roble faculty set to work, manning phone banks and generally promoting the measure, while an ad hoc committee, with Ms. Kegans among their ranks, planned a dream facility.

When the Measure Y passed, the dream became a reality. When a snafu threatened to leave the fitness lab without equipment, she helped to organize a fundraiser (yes, with the help of her team, as well as generous community members) at the Candlelight Pavilion, a dinner and performance of Nunsense that netted the fitness lab boosters $40,000 to purchase workout equipment.

Today,  the fitness lab is a beloved and heavily-used fixture on the campus. El Roble students use it and so do community members taking fitness classes through the Claremont Adult School.

Ms. Kegans has joined her team in leaving a legacy on the campus, but she is not content to rest on her laurels. She heads as often as possible to physical education conferences, hand-in-hand with department teammates like Ms. Foster.

“It’s rejuvenating,” she said. “If you can walk away with one great idea and implement it, it’s successful.”

—Sarah Torribio



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