WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (AP) — For physical education teacher Abigail Wrinn, each student's personal progress is the most crucial aspect of gym class.

Wrinn, who is 13 years into her career and in her fourth year at Windsor Locks Middle School, was named the 2017 Connecticut Association for Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance middle school teacher of the year, an achievement she said is a result of her passion for teaching.

Wrinn, who maintains a blog about her experiences as a gym teacher to help others in her field, previously taught in Massachusetts and East Windsor, and has always been at the middle school level.

"It's what I love the most," she said. "I can be a better role model at the middle school level and influence their lives. At this age, they're fun, they still want to do P.E., and they want to build relationships with their teachers."

But Wrinn's students do not rely entirely on her; as they pile into each class, each one grabs a folder with a worksheet, looks up at a whiteboard stating the daily goals, and copies the information down. Then, Wrinn asks a series of questions to ensure the students know exactly what they're expected to do, and the students rate their efforts and set personal goals before the end of class.

"They own it," Wrinn said of each class's daily goal. "We're definitely not a roll-the-ball-out school. These kids come here to learn."

On Thursday, a class of sixth-grade girls worked to master badminton serves. They begin by simply bouncing the birdie off their rackets before practicing serving motions and, finally, trying to hit certain targets on the floor with their serves.

Between each phase, Wrinn uses a "catch-and-release" method, calling the students together and asking about their troubles and successes at each level. While some students had a more difficult time than others, Wrinn stressed that the point of her teaching is always to facilitate personal improvement, specifically when more rigorous fitness activities come into play.

"Never discourage a child about fitness," she said. "It's not 'Who's the best?' It's 'Did you improve?'"

This method resonated with Adam Byrnes, a sixth-grade cross country athlete who Wrinn coaches.

"She helped me to get faster and faster," he said. "If I'm struggling, she helps me get better."

Charlie Oberg, another sixth-grade athlete who Wrinn coaches in basketball, said Wrinn is "just like a friend to everybody."

Wrinn also credited the school system's "phenomenal program" and the abilities of her colleague, Brian Deming, for students' successes, and said she hopes to stay in Windsor Locks for the remainder of her career, encouraging fitness and fighting obesity.

"It's not always about the athleticism," she said. "I just want my kids to have a love for being active."

___

Online: http://bit.ly/2rfekLN

___

Information from: Journal Inquirer, http://www.journalinquirer.com