WARREN, NJ - Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) Health Education Teacher Jill Gleeson has been selected as the 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year.
Gleeson began teaching health and physical education at WHRHS in September 2004. From 2004 to 2009, she coached varsity softball and junior varsity girls’ basketball.
WHRHS Principal George Alexis congratulated Gleeson on her selection.
“Please join me in congratulating Jill Gleeson, our Teacher of the Year for 2017-18,” Alexis said, when introducing her to a gathering of WHRHS Faculty when the Teacher of the Year selection was announced. “Jill has been instrumental in deepening our commitment to wellness. Her passion for cultivating healthy lifestyles is benefiting our students and our entire school community. In addition to her great work in the classroom each day and her significant contributions to an excellent health curriculum, she has helped coordinate and lead several evening programs for students, parents, and community members, all in an effort to promote wellness and advance the district's strategic plan.”
Gleeson is also recognized for revising WHRHS curriculum and restructuring, in particular, the ninth-grade health program.
“These changes have made a significant difference in the mental wellness of our newest students,” said Alexis. “She has come to be seen as a teacher, a mentor, and a valuable liaison to the WHRHS PTO (Parent Teacher Organization.)”
Gleeson is faculty advisor to the Teen Action Group, a student extracurricular activity, which is a subcommittee of the Student Wellness Group. Thanks to the leadership of an energetic group of mostly Juniors and Sophomores, she said, the Teen Action Group has participated in several initiatives to facilitate more positive mental health environment for students. Among other activities, they arranged to have student musicians and singers provide music in the main entrance atrium greeting students as they arrive by bus to help them start their school day in a brighter mood.
During her time at WHRHS, she has had time to nurture her philosophy as a teacher. She said she has a passion for educating teens on the most pertinent health issues in today’s society. Among her areas of particular interest are substance use and co-occurring disorders involving mental health.
“My philosophy has changed over the past 14 years of my career,” she said. “As a health educator, I feel it is extremely important to stay up to date with the current health trends. Cultivating a relationship with students and providing a safe environment to allow students the ability to learn and to engage in conversation about sensitive health issues.”
Her philosophy has also focused on overall wellness. She is a co-chair, along with last year’s WHRHS Co-Teacher of the Year, Student Assistance Counselor Julie Kumpf, of the WHRHS Healthy Edge Wellness Initiative have devoted a lot of time this school year to running wellness programs for faculty, students and parents. She said she is grateful to the school administration and Board of Education for being so supportive of these Wellness initiatives. “That is so important.”
The first of three overall goals in the WHRHS Strategic Plan 2015-2020, she said, is: “Create and expand programs and services that enhance the social and emotional wellness of all students within a compassionate learning community.”
“Students must have a balance of physical, social, emotional, and intellectual wellness to allow them to perform at their best,” Gleeson said. “In a time when many teens are experiencing challenges with their mental health and substance abuse, understanding this balance is even more crucial. Health educators must teach students the importance of nutrition and physical activity, positive decision-making skills, being able to foster healthy relationships, and ways to seek positive coping skills.”
Gleeson has been pleased by the efforts of she and others among the faculty to better provide for creating a positive environment for better mental health support for students and parents.
“This year has been awesome,” Gleeson said. “The initiatives have included parents, the PTO, the community, and other outside resources. The result has been really beneficial to students, and there has been a lot of community support behind these wellness initiatives.”
Gleeson is in her fourteenth year of teaching Health Education. Being on faculty at Watchung Hills was her first teaching position after college.
She is a graduate of Bound Brook High School, where she excelled on the school’s Softball Team and Girls Basketball Team.
Gleeson received her bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from West Chester University, West Chester, Pa. She completed her student teaching at local schools near West Chester.
She earned her master’s degree in Public Health from Walden University, Minneapolis, MN. Gleeson completed her internship in Public Health at Somerset Medical Center, Somerset, now called RWJ University Hospital Somerset.
She and her husband, Sgt. Danny Gleeson of the Warren Township Police, have two sons, Danny, 6, and Cameron, 4.