When going through the teaching program at Rowan University, township native Kevin Sherry knew where he ultimately wanted to end up: teaching and coaching at his alma mater, Deptford High School.
“My whole goal was to come back,” Sherry said.
It didn’t take long to bring that dream to fruition, with Sherry starting his teaching career at Camden Academy Charter High School in 2001, moving to Lindenwold School District a year later, and landing in Deptford midway through the 2006-’07 school year.
“We have amazing people here that make coming to work a lot of fun,” Sherry said of the district. “There are so many people that care about these kids and want the best for them.”
Unquestionably, one of those amazing people is Sherry himself. The health and physical education teacher was recently named Deptford High School Teacher of the Year.
Sherry, who lives in Deptford with his wife, Carletta and 11-year-old daughter, Tristen, was honored by the recognition, although he admitted he was also quite surprised.
“There’s a ton of amazing teachers in our district and in our school,” he said. “I thought there were a lot of teachers that would be very deserving of it.”
In addition to his teaching role, Sherry is also the varsity boys indoor/outdoor track and field coach and the varsity boys soccer coach – a position he took over from his own high school coach, Steve Wink.
“Steve Wink was my head (soccer) coach. I took over the program from him. He came back to be the assistant with me,” Sherry said, “which is fun.”
Seeing his athletes lose their spring season in 2020, as well as the impact the pandemic has had on sports for this school year, has been difficult. When COVID-19 took hold in South Jersey last March, Sherry said staff initially planned for two or three weeks out of the building. It quickly became clear that was not the case.
The biggest hurdle for the physical education department was adapting its physical, active routine to the virtual realm.
“To integrate technology into those areas was a little bit of a challenge,” Sherry admitted.
He credits the entire department with putting a strong program together for the students, getting everything onto the district’s online learning platform, including PowerPoints and any needed documents.
“We basically did everything we’d normally do in the classroom,” Sherry explained, including adding some creative surveys and fitness tracking elements.
It was important for the teachers to ensure the kids were getting the information they needed, but that their physical education classes were not an additional stressor. Physical education was an opportunity, Sherry said, for the students to understand how their mental and emotional health needed to be tended to as much as their physical health, especially during such a trying time.
According to Sherry, the transition to educating during a pandemic was made easier for everyone due to the strength of the district.
“Everybody is willing to do whatever we can to help the students have as normal of a school year that they can,” he said. “Day to day things can change. The fact that the administration is so flexible, the staff is so flexible, the students are so flexible – it’s huge in helping everybody get through this together.”
Pandemic or not, Sherry loves teaching, saying his favorite part is when his students have that “lightbulb moment” in his classes.
“I tell the kids to make health their own. We’re talking about the human body. We’re talking about nutrition. It can be unique to each student,” he said. “When you see a student make those little changes and become healthier people, that’s a change for a lifetime. Kids don’t think much about their diet and their health and how it will affect them long term. It’s very exciting for me.”
Sherry is invested in helping his students and athletes become well rounded in all ways, not just in the realm of health and nutrition. He encourages community service, and a prime example took place this past December.
In 2019, Sherry’s wife organized a community dinner for locals in need, serving a holiday meal in addition to providing donated canned goods and winter outerwear to attendees. Even though this format wouldn’t work in 2020, it didn’t stop the event – it just turned it into a socially distanced, drive-thru format.
The entire district supported the effort, including Sherry and his winter track athletes. It served around 1,000 individuals, supplying them with winter coats and accessories, nonperishables and prepackaged fully prepared meals to bring home.
Sherry said the lessons learned from an event such as the community dinner help drive home the importance of helping others, something students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“That’s what we’re here for, right? To help these young people grow,” Sherry said. “To see them from their freshman year to senior year and how they’ve grown as people, it’s very, very rewarding.”