“We have a saying in my PE classes,” said Charles Rizzuto, a health and physical education teacher at Oyster Bay High School. “‘PE is not a me thing, it’s a we thing.’”
He uses this motto to inspire his students to be more compassionate and to overall live healthier, more fulfilling lives, he said.
“A lot of times when you watch a group of kids evolve over time together and infuse [that motto] into what we do you watch them start to look out for each other,” Rizzuto said, “and show sincere care and concern for one another.”
Through class sayings and out-of-the-box programming, Rizzuto wakes up every day hoping to have a positive impact on his students.
“One of the greatest joys is to watch kids grow [and] step outside of their comfort zone,” he said. “I’d say one of the biggest pieces is just being able to watch kids learn something that they know transfers into real life, whether it be now or in the future.”
His genuine passion for his job and the results that follow have not gone unnoticed. On Oct. 9, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District announced Rizzuto as the 2020 Secondary Physical Education Teacher of the Year, awarded by the New York State Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
“He is someone that is a true ambassador for physical education,” Kevin Trentowski, the district’s director of health and physical education assessment, said. “To see him rewarded outside of the familiar eyes and the familiar setting of Oyster Bay was something I was thrilled to hear for him.”
Rizzuto is a heavily involved member of NYS AHPERD. But he said he was surprised when President Clancy Seymour called to say that Rizzuto was being given the award.
“For my phone to ring and it to be him isn’t odd,” he said. “It didn't resonate with me that this was the call. [Seymour] said ‘One of my greatest honors as New York State AHPERD President,’ and once he said that, then I knew. It was an overwhelming mixture of emotions and happy was obviously one of them.”
However, while the award is exciting, Rizzuto said that is not what this is all about. “[The award] means a lot but at the same time it’s also strange because that’s not why we teach,” he said. “You don’t get into teaching to be recognized at all really, let alone win an award. You get into teaching to hopefully change the trajectory of a kid’s life in some sort of positive way.”
To Rizzuto, health and physical education are about so much more than reading a textbook or simply playing sports every day in class. They are opportunities to learn real lessons transferable to life, he explained.
“When a lot of people think about PE they think about the activity. A lot of people will say ‘What did you do in PE today?’ not ‘What did you learn in PE today?’” Rizzuto said. “To me, the activity is just the vehicle for some sort of deeper, more important learning. If I have an objective for the day I could probably choose a hundred different activities to reach that objective.”
In addition to working at Oyster Bay, Rizzuto also teaches a class at his alma mater Adelphi University and is involved in countless other projects from sitting on local, state and national committees and presenting at numerous conferences, to contributing to books and online publications and producing a healthy living podcast and website.
This year he helped rewrite the new New York State Learning Standards for Physical Education and the New York State COVID-19 Re-Entry guidance document for health and physical education.
Through his tireless work, he motivates not only his students but friends and colleagues as well.
“He’s the type of person who lifts you up. You leave conversations with him feeling inspired,” said Victoria Wink, a fellow OBHS physical education teacher and close friend. “Every time I talk to him he challenges my thinking and allows me to reflect on my own teaching experiences. I can definitely say he’s made me a better educator.”
It is being involved at OBHS that has allowed Rizzuto to form deep connections with others.
“Students come to him because they feel comfortable sharing with him,” Wink said. “I think it’s really important for students to have that adult in their life and in the school building they feel comfortable and confident going to. Mr. Rizzuto is definitely that person for our students.”
Growing up, Rizzuto said he always knew he wanted to be a teacher and work with children. With a love for writing, in college he set his sights on being an English teacher. However, he later changed his mind. “[I] realized that the impact that I wanted to have on my students would be perfectly framed as a health and physical education teacher,” he said. “It wasn’t until my senior year [of high school] that I really saw PE as an educational discipline. I didn’t make the connection as to that’s what I wanted to do until later on.”
At the end of the day, Rizzuto’s children, both at school and his own two children at home, are what drive him to be a better person and work tirelessly towards inspiring others to be better versions of themselves.
“He’s a guy with a tremendous heart,” Trentowski said. “He cares tremendously about the health and wellbeing of students. I think if Charlie could teach 365 days a year, he would.”