Posted 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 8, 2021

Penny Kroening, '85, has received a 2020 Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award for her remarkable career as a physical education teacher. “It’s always been my passion to meet kids where they are and help them feel empowered,” she says.

Alum recognized for outstanding career in physical education

Penny Kroening never got complacent.

In 33 years as a physical education teacher with the School District of Waukesha, Kroening never recycled a lesson plan, got stuck in her ways, or stopped seeing students as unique individuals.

“I wanted kids to feel like I had been waiting all day for them to come to my classroom,” says Kroening, ’85, this year’s recipient of the UWL Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award. The award is given to an outstanding educator who has made significant contributions to the children, schools, and communities they serve. “Kids are different, they’re always changing, and so I needed to change the way I teach, too. I needed to find a way to light that fire for them.”

Kroening retired from teaching in 2018 and currently serves as the executive director of the Wisconsin Health and Physical Education association. The WHPE provides support and professional development opportunities for health and physical education teachers across Wisconsin.

Even before COVID-19 forced many K-12 schools online, Kroening says physical education was transforming.

During the arc of her career, Kroening saw fundamental changes in the way physical education is taught in public schools. In the 1980s, there was a heavy emphasis on traditional team sports — basketball, soccer, volleyball — as well as more rigid rules and expectations.

Kroening, and many other forward-thinking teachers, soon realized that not every student was cut out to be point guard or goalkeeper. She began introducing her students to more obscure sports and lifelong hobbies. Often, these lessons touched on core, academic topics and required collaboration with classroom teachers.

For one unit, Kroening worked with teachers to ensure that students had a sound understanding of latitude and longitude. Then she organized a geocaching expedition on the school’s 40-acre grounds.

For another unit, Kroening leaned on students’ knowledge of science and engineering. She had them design and build their own snowshoes, which they tested and perfected during the unit.

“It’s all about finding that sport or activity that will be that spark, and it’s going to be different for each kid,” she explains. “A majority of kids aren’t going to play basketball or volleyball all their lives. So how do we build that physical literacy so we can find the activity they want to do, and then do it with confidence?”

Kroening also made activities as open-ended as possible, allowing students to choose their own equipment and, in some cases, make their own rules.

“It’s like if you were teaching badminton or pickleball,” she says. “Why are you teaching the sport when you could be teaching the skill of striking? You can allow students to decide how they learn — whether that’s with different types of rackets; weather that’s with a birdie, a Nerf ball, or a tennis ball; whether that’s with a low net, a high net, or no net.”

Kroening’s student-centered approach toward health and physical education has earned her a strong reputation and several awards.

In 2015, the Wisconsin Health and Physical Education Association named her Wisconsin’s Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year, which qualified her for the regional competition.

From there, Kroening was named Midwest Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year and, ultimately, National Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the Society Of Health and Physical Educator (SHAPE America).

“Those awards allowed me to do amazing things, traveling around the country and sharing best practices with other teachers,” she says. “It was a great experience.”

The Burt and Norma Altman Award is particularly meaningful, she says, because it recognizes teachers who are not just skilled at their craft, but impactful in the lives of their students.

“It’s always been my passion to meet kids where they are and help them feel empowered,” she says. “What an honor to be put forward for this award. I’m so humbled to be selected for it.”

Six to receive distinguished alumni awards

Alumni from five decades are receiving distinguished alumni awards from the UWL ALumni Associaiton. They’re being honored for distinguished service and successful careers.

Awards and honorees include:

The Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumni Award

Recognizes outstanding achievement of alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the university. Long-time administrator Maurice O. Graff instituted the honor in 1977.

Michael McGinley, ’82

  • Revered for a dedicated career in animal health, improving the lives of animals by preventing disease and championing more effective vaccines and drugs.
  • President of Biologicals & Pharmaceuticals, Heska Corp.
  • Bachelor’s in microbiology. Master’s and doctorate from Iowa State University. Advanced management program at Harvard University.

James Burkhart, ’68

  • Internationally recognized scholar in radon science and leader in developing high-quality radon measurement equipment to reduce radon-induced lung cancer.
  • Professor emeritus in the Physics Department at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
  • Bachelor’s in physics and math. Master’s and doctorate from UW-Milwaukee.

Rada Distinguished Alumni Award

Recognizes alumni who have graduated within the last 20 years, achieved professional distinction and taken part in humanitarian activities. Professor emeritus Ron Rada and his wife, Jane, created the award in 2002.

Kara Pennoyer, ’06

  • Respected leader in state government, including advisor to the Wisconsin governor and his chief of staff on planning, policy development and problem resolutions, along with overseeing numerous internal teams.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff for Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.
  • Bachelor’s in political science and communication studies. Master’s from University of Illinois Chicago.

Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award

Recognizes outstanding alumni who have contributed significantly to the improvement of multicultural understanding on the campus and in their careers. History Professor Emeritus James Parker initiated the award in 1997.

Jennifer Miller, ’70

  • Renowned career working with low-income, poverty stricken or abused persons; worked to revitalize neighborhoods in Rock County, Wisconsin, and Chicago.
  • Retired but remains active volunteering for the Heartland Alliance for Human Rights and Human Needs.
  • Bachelor’s in history and English.

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award

Honors and recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor Emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, long-time supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.

Penny Kroening, ’85

  • National award-winning leader in empowering kids to live physically active lifestyles by promoting physical literacy using creativity, design and integrated arts into lessons; 2016 SHAPE America Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
  • Executive director of the Wisconsin Health and Physical Education Association.
  • Earned a Bachelor’s in physical education with a concentration in adaptive physical education. Master’s from Carroll University.

Steven Olson, ’85

  • Respected educator with a reputation for putting students first, while leading with integrity; recently facilitated a five-year district strategic plan resulting in a mission statement of “Enter With Promise. Leave With Purpose.”
  • Superintendent of Community High School Dist. 155 in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
  • Bachelor’s in broadfield social studies. Master’s from Northern Illinois University. Superintendent Endorsement from Aurora University.