2011 Dave Jones Award Winner: Chris Wirszyla

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Download materials used by Wirszyla for Newspapers in Education.

Integrating Reading and Math into a Study of the Sports Section

Health Scavenger Hunt

Chris Wirszyla, the 2010-2011 recipient of the Dave Jones Award for the Advancement of Youth Readership will receive official recognition on March 1 at an awards ceremony in Chapel Hill.  On March 18, at the NC Reading Association’s conference in Raleigh, he will present his comprehensive approach for using healthful living to promote literacy and global awareness as well as physical fitness at Cape Fear Elementary School in Pender County.

Playing sports

Teaching elementary school health and physical education in Pender County enables Chris to live his values. To his job and family life, he brings a love for sports and health, the beach and newspapers, and he models hard work and perseverance.  He also brings treasured memories. He has been interested in sports and health all his life. He writes, “I grew up in a generation when we were outside all the time, playing whatever sport was in season. We didn’t need any parents watching us or organizing things for us. We had neighborhood kids who would get together and play for hours every day. We developed sports skills in a variety of sports that led to life-long participation.” Chris remains active. He loves to run alone in the early morning, near the ocean.

Using the newspaper

Chris’ commitment to newspapers started early in his life, on Long Island. He earned his first paycheck when he was eight years old and spent three years delivering editions of New York Newsday. Chris says he has always used newspaper stories for instructional purposes. His subscribing to the Newspaper in Education program‘s electronic or e-edition resulted in more extensive use and led him to encourage other teachers in his school to use newspapers. He has offered workshops to teachers on how to incorporate current events and global awareness into their classroom instruction.   One of his news photos shows students participating in a variety of dances from around the world on multicultural day at Cape Fear Elementary School.

Currently, Chris uses the e-edition provided by his regional newspaper, the Star-News, to highlight major league and local college stories (UNC-Wilmington), box scores, standings and statistics. Coverage of local high school teams and people they know motivate students to read and study the results. He turns to online editions of the local newspapers, the Pender Post and Pender Chronicle, for more in-depth coverage of local games and box scores. He also promotes active lifestyles with stories that he writes for local papers, reaching parents and other members of the community who influence children. He says, “Using newspapers helps students visualize what I am teaching. Baseball standings allow students to see the leagues and divisions in an organized format. Students see how the sports section is organized and all of the sports it encompasses.” Attachments show some of the ways Chris incorporates news into his teaching.

Learning for a lifetime

More memories explain his deep commitment to learning through sports, “I can tell you the starting line-up of the 1969 New York Mets. We were so interested in sports back then. We could recite statistics and who played where and knew the names of all the teams and players from each. We used to run home from school to watch the World Series.” He hears from students who thank him for his teaching. One owns a fitness center in Wyoming and another works for ASIC. He worries that current students choose playing sports on video games over active participation.

When asked about his favorite sport, Chris lists many. He mentions basketball as his first love, as a player, but he tried and enjoyed many more sports. He favors Frisbee for teaching because “everyone starts at the same level.”  But, baseball is his final answer, “For the tradition and history and what that sport meant to my relationship with my father, I have to go with baseball. I love baseball.”

The beach drew Chris, his wife and young family to Wilmington and his current position in Pender County’s schools. As a young man, he spent his first earnings on a boat for clamming, an activity he still enjoys. Before moving to North Carolina’s coast, he worked at a college in South Carolina. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in curriculum and instruction. His first degrees came from a community college in Batavia, NY and a college in New York’s SUNY system. He also taught abroad in several locations where he learned to speak Spanish, a valued skill in his current position.

Recognizing his commitment


Through reading, Chris Wirszyla passes on his and his father’s love of baseball to his twins, Alex and Bella.

Chris was chosen to receive the Dave Jones award because he offers the “whole package,” implementing the “comprehensive approach” described in North Carolina’s Healthful Living standards. He practices skills, teaches rules, encourages teamwork, and integrates video, poetry, other literature and newspapers to engage young learners in grades 3-5. He uses games students love to develop academic skills in a variety of subjects.

In the stories he writes for his local newspaper, Chris explains why he cares so deeply for his students and remains devoted to his work. “When people enjoy activities, they will keep playing. As they keep playing, they get better. The better they get, the more they enjoy it. It is a beautiful cycle and a recipe for a lifetime of activity for fun and fitness.”  In another story, he advises parents to “ Go swimming on a rainy day. Go out and enjoy the outdoors! You’ll be happy you did. “

Growing up strong

When introduced to news and information about activities they enjoy, young people learn the benefits of life-long reading. How many reporters and editors were drawn first to newspapers by a love for sports or other games? Have you read about the love of baseball and baseball statistics shared by Federal Reserve Chairmen, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke and the ways they used sports to practice their math?

Seeds sown in Chris Wirszyla’s classroom and gym lead to a lifetime of health and fitness and to the newspaper for lessons in reading, writing, math, statistics and much more. In a letter to Mr. Chris, one student wrote, “When I grow up I am going to be healthy and strong because of you.” Strong in body and mind—a teacher receives no better tribute.

The award’s namesake

Dave Jones spent his career with North Carolina newspapers. He worked for a weekly newspaper in Enfield and two dailies, The Wilson Daily Times and The News & Observer. His devotion to education led to his service as president of the Journalism Foundation at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Press Foundation. His support of educational efforts includes Newspapers in Education and the Mini Page.