Christine Gilliard-Arthur, an instructor at Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary School in Cheverly, watches a second-grade class in the school’s gymnasium. She was named Physical Education Teacher of the Year by a Maryland organization. (Natalie McGill/The Gazette)

Christine Gilliard-Arthur said she knew since kindergarten she wanted to teach physical education because she loved to play.

But it was hard work before play for the Laurel woman to reach her dream of teaching students like hers at Cheverly’s Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary School, and she recently saw the fruits of her labor — an award as Maryland’s best elementary school physical education teacher.

Gilliard-Arthur, 35, was named the Maryland Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Physical Education Teacher of the Year for elementary students. MAHPERD, based in Towson, focuses on professional development and research for teachers such as Gilliard-Arthur, who received the award at the MAHPERD Convention on Oct. 18 in Hunt Valley.

“It isn’t all play,” Gilliard-Arthur said. “I do get to see the different sides of students. We involve everyone, and we don’t isolate, and we don’t cater, either. We try to develop the whole child and every child.”

Gilliard-Arthur has worked in Prince George’s County Public Schools for 11 years, spending seven years at Oxon Hill Elementary School before arriving at Spellman in 2008. Amy Wiley, the county schools’ supervisor for physical education curriculum and instruction, nominated her for the award, which has been given out at least since the 1980s, said Elaine Lindsay, MAHPERD executive director.

Sixth-grader Lauratu Bah, 11, of Hyattsville said she enjoys the “JAMmin Minutes” every Friday, when a few minutes of a dance song plays on the school loudspeaker and allows Gilliard-Arthur to encourage students in every classroom to get up and move.

“I like that she’s dedicated about physical education because some other teachers I’ve had before, they just told us to play,” Bah said. “Mrs. Gilliard has lessons.”

Gilliard-Arthur said she is proud of the fact Spellman is the only MAHPERD demonstration school in Prince George’s County — and only one of 11 in Maryland — meaning instructors across the state visit Spellman to learn best teaching practices from watching Gilliard-Arthur in action. Gilliard-Arthur earned the honor in the 2010-11 school year after being observed by specialists and submitting her curriculum and research to MAHPERD.

Gilliard-Arthur said part of being a good physical education teacher is showing how the class should be treated as an academic subject like English; her lessons also incorporate reading and math skills. As students learned locomotive skills such as hopping and skipping Oct. 17, Gilliard-Arthur asked students to break off in pairs and groups of three and four.

Individual schools can set their own time limits for daily physical education, and the range at Spellman is 30 to 45 minutes from kindergarten through sixth grade. However, Gilliard-Arthur said 90 minutes of physical education would be ideal.

“Once you increase the health of your students, they’re here, they’re well managed, because they’re healthier,” Gilliard-Arthur said.

And it’s not just the Spellman students getting healthy. In the past three years, about 20 staff members, including Spellman Principal Susan Holiday, have participated in Zumba dance classes Gilliard-Arthur organized as well as morning walks with students before class.

“Principals want to see her lesson plans,” Holiday said. “She has very high standards, so we might as well learn from the best.”