Staying physically active was easy for Will Hogan as a kid growing up.
He came home right after school every day, but didn't stay for long.
Meet Will HoganAge: 50
Occupation: Physical education teacher at Ridge Family Center for Learning in Elk Grove Village
Education: Two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree in school supervision from Northeastern Illinois University
Activities: Sponsor of after-school fitness club; member of Ridge's universal team and building leadership committee
Past jobs: Chicago Park District coach and instructor; teacher at Henking Elementary School in Glenview
Ÿ 2013 Elementary P.E. Teacher of the Year, Northeastern District, from the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
Ÿ Spearheaded efforts that resulted in Ridge being selected the grand prize winner in the Fuel Up to Play 60 Casting Call Challenge, netting a $3,100 grant, a visit from three Chicago Bears players, and an appearance in an NFL promotional video
Ÿ 2011 Fuel Up To Play 60 Program Advisor of the Year in Illinois
"My books were the first thing I put down when I got home, and I was out the door," he said. "When you were in the house, you were asked why you were there."
Growing up in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, there was always something to keep him busy: hours upon hours of "fast pitch" baseball with friends in the school courtyard or shooting hoops in the gym.
It's different for many kids today, who have new hobbies like playing video games and surfing the Internet -- all while childhood obesity rates continue to climb.
But, he says, "kids can be active, and more and more are making that choice."
At the Ridge Family Center for Learning in Elk Grove Village, where Hogan is a physical education teacher, colleagues say more kids are indeed choosing healthy lifestyles thanks to Hogan.
He's the driving force behind the school's efforts to promote daily physical fitness and nutritional awareness -- efforts that have been recognized nationally by first lady Michelle Obama and the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, the NFL and National Dairy Council's initiative to encourage healthy eating among youth and at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
"Prior to Will being here, not all students have been as excited to go to gym as they are now," said Athena Apostolakis, a Ridge fine arts teacher who works with Hogan on a schoolwide committee focused on student health and positive behavior.
"They love going to gym. They talk about what they are doing outside of school to be active. They come to us wanting to share the different sports they're in and activities they've done with their families.
"Not only during the school day are they much more active and enthusiastic about it -- it spreads outside of the school and into the families. There's much more conversation about being healthy."
It's things like Hogan's after-school fitness club, family fitness nights, and outdoor school garden that have got people talking, and why he's being recognized as one of "The Suburbs' Top Teachers" as part of a monthly Daily Herald series recognizing outstanding suburban teachers.
Hogan leads by example, biking from his home on Chicago's far Northwest Side to school when weather permits.
Growing up as a self-described "gym rat," he admits he "didn't dream of still being in a gym at 50." But, he says, "I enjoy my job."
He got his first job at 17 in the Chicago Park District, and spent years there as a coach and instructor. He was a P.E. teacher in Glenview before coming to Ridge School in 2007.
Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 officials call Ridge their "school of choice," since a lottery is held annually to determine enrollment of students from throughout the district, which includes portions of Elk Grove Village, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines and Mount Prospect.
Walk into Hogan's P.E. class and you find an exuberant atmosphere: music is played on speakers while students take part in a cardio-intensive "Dash for Cash," consisting of laps around the gym in exchange for play money. It's $1 for every lap, and once you get $6, you're allowed to participate in 3 minutes worth of activities such as jump rope, Spikeball or OgoSport disk games.
Run more laps for a longer period of time and you get more money to spend.
There's personal finance lessons in gym class, too.
"Some are savers, some are spenders," Hogan said.
The goal of cardio day is to maintain moderate to vigorous activity throughout the class period and a heart rate above 125 beats per minute. Students measure their heart rates on digital monitors set up in the gym.
Hogan said his P.E. classes operate differently than P.E. classes years ago, in which athletes thrived and instructors treated everyone as the same.
Physical education today, he says, is just as important for "the kid who is great at reading but not fit," as it is for "the kid who's fit, but not great at reading."
And while some schools have "gutted P.E.," Hogan said, "research shows it's not an either/or proposition."
"We focus on personal best and celebrate successes along the way," Hogan said. "It's changed for the better."
Ridge Principal Michele Ramsey said teachers and staff at Ridge are "committed to developing the whole child," and that's why the school has adopted as its motto "Growing Strong Minds, Strong Bodies, Caring Hearts."
Hogan, she says, "lives and breathes our motto," spearheading many of the school's initiatives in improving health and wellness.
"He's not only knowledgeable and dedicated, but he really has gone above and beyond mastering his craft, to the point where he takes a leadership role in our school," Ramsey said. "He's always willing to collaborate and pitch in wherever he can. He's a very special teacher."
Here's a look at some of the initiatives Hogan has either introduced or done in collaboration with other teachers:
• An after-school fitness club meets two or three days a week, acting as an extension of P.E. class, with games and activities. Ridge operates on an eight-hour school day schedule, so those who participate do not leave school until 5 p.m. on club days.
• Ridge started a garden this year in the school courtyard, consisting of a dozen planter boxes yielding tomatoes, carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes. Hogan is applying for a grant to pay for growing lamps for every classroom so students will be able to start seeds inside, then replant their vegetables outside in the spring.
• The school holds "Fuel Up Fitness Nights" periodically throughout the year in place of open houses, in which parents, students and teachers are invited to participate in activities like yoga and kickboxing, and watch healthy cooking demonstrations.
• Students at Ridge don't have gym class every day, but four days a week they start the day in their classrooms with at least 15 minutes of physical activity. Every student participates in the same exercise routine led by students on a schoolwide closed-circuit TV system.
• On Wednesday mornings, students take a break from their morning workouts to watch their classmates host cooking demonstrations on the "Ridge Food Network." The live show features one or two students making healthy recipes, sometimes using ingredients found in the school's garden.
• Classroom teachers regularly employ "brain breaks" for students during long instruction periods, encouraging them to get up out of their seats and do three minutes of physical activity.
"For good reason, we want to get kids active. This has taken off," Hogan said of the efforts. "It's become the culture of what we do here."
Last year, the efforts resulted in the selection of Ridge as grand prize winner in the Fuel Up to Play 60 Casting Call Challenge, in which students wrote essays about how they maintain healthy, active lifestyles inside and outside of school.
Ridge, selected from 73,000 schools across the country, was awarded a $3,100 grant from the Midwest Dairy Council, a school visit from three Chicago Bears players, and an appearance in a 30-second national TV spot.
Hogan was also in the audience last February when Michelle Obama announced the launch of her Let's Move! Active Schools initiative at McCormick Place. In her speech, she mentioned the efforts of "teachers in Elk Grove Village" who "start off every day with 20 minutes of kickboxing or cardio activities" and "have regular 'brain breaks' where kids get up and they're moving throughout the day."
Hogan's leadership on school fitness initiatives resulted in being recognized as elementary P.E. teacher of the year by the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a professional support group for educators in those fields.
Hogan received the award last month, and was honored with his own "Will Hogan Day" at Ridge on Nov. 15 during a surprise schoolwide ceremony.
Hogan, playing king for the day, got to wear a crown and cape.
"They ambushed me," Hogan said. "How can you not love it?"