Lyseth Teacher Named 2021 Elementary Physical Education Teacher of Year

Merita McKenzie

Merita McKenzie, a physical education teacher and coach at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland, is the winner of the the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (MAHPERD) 2021 Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award. The award recognizes educators who conduct quality programs, serve as positive role models, and are leaders in their profession, school and community.

“For more than three decades, Merita has supported kids in Portland in getting active, developing healthy lifelong habits, and in being the best that they can be in every facet of their life,” said Lyseth Assistant Principal Sarah Rubin. “Merita has spent her career giving back to her students, her community, and her profession, and this is such an incredible way to celebrate her for everything she has done.”

MAHPERD’s criteria for determining Teacher of the Year award winners include:

  • Conducting a quality program that reflects an understanding of children’s growth and development
  • Utilizing various teaching methodologies and planning innovative learning experiences to meet individual student needs
  • Serving as a positive role model, epitomizing personal health and fitness, enjoyment of activity sportsmanship, and sensitivity to students/community
  • Participating in professional development opportunities
  • Providing service to the profession/school/community through leadership, presentations, and/or writing

Rubin detailed the ways McKenzie has spent her career in service of students and her community:

“As a physical education teacher and coach, Merita has had a direct positive impact on the lives of thousands of children in Portland. She has written countless grants to procure equipment and opportunities for her students to ensure all kids, regardless of their background, have access to engaging and exciting experiences to get and stay active.

In the 2020-2021 school year, a non-traditional year due to COVID-19, Merita completely redesigned her entire PE curriculum and worked with our Outdoor Learning coordinator to plan for an entire school year outside with her students. Merita took kids outdoors to engage in specific cooperative games and kinesthetic activities to learn how to work with each other, learn how their bodies work, and learn how to take care of themselves. I will never forget one particular winter day, when temperatures hovered around 15 degrees, and Merita had every single one of her first-grade students armed with a dozen layers and a sled ready to do some warm up stretches and then sled. Many of our students were experiencing only their second winter in a cold, snowy climate and even more of them don’t get the opportunity to experience winter activities like sledding with their families. But Merita made it happen for them and gave them all the gift of enjoying a Maine winter while getting active at the same time.

In addition to all she has done for the physical health of our community, Merita has spent a lifetime leading Equity work in Portland. At Lyseth, Merita is a member of our Equity cohort and an advisor and co-founder for our Civil Rights Team. She has worked tirelessly in these roles to ensure all staff and students at Lyseth and in the district feel safe and welcomed in our schools. She has also volunteered her time in countless ways to lead this work at the city level. Merita has served on the Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Task Force, as a Board Member for the Restoration of the Abyssinian Meeting House, and most recently as a member of the City of Portland’s Racial Equity Board. She is also a renowned photographer, gardener, and a fixture for children and families in her East End neighborhood.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana said, “We are very proud of Merita for receiving this well-deserved recognition for her dedication and service. She exemplifies the best of our Portland Public Schools People.”

To learn more about the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (MAHPERD) visit