Jumping for Dreams at the Olympics and in the Classroom

By Ava Wallace

Students going back to Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga., this fall will have a new math teacher, and if the numbers are right, she will have a gold medal.

NEA student program member Chaunte Lowe, a 28-year old Georgia resident, will start her demonstration teaching at Grayson this coming school year, and will have plenty of stories to share with her students and her colleagues. Lowe is spending part of her summer at the London Olympics, where she will try to jump over bars set almost seven feet off the ground en route to a medal in women’s high jump.

The student/teacher is no track-and-field rookie. Earlier this summer at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., Lowe, wearing highlighter-yellow knee socks, victory-dancing, and blowing kisses to the crowd after each of her three jumps, cleared a 6’7” bar and became the top female high-jumper to represent the U.S. in London. Just last year at U.S. championships, she broke a 22-year old American record with a 6’ 8 ¾” jump.

Lowe will jump in the qualifying round for her event Thursday (4:30 AM if you live on the East Coast) and, if she moves on, will compete for a gold medal in the High Jump Final on Saturday.

(Watch her winning high jump below)

When she is not jumping over six-foot bars, Lowe says she is studying. The Georgia Tech graduate is currently enrolled in the M.A. in Teaching Mathematics degree program at Western Governors University and begins her teaching demonstration in September.

And though the high-spirited high jumper loves to have fun during competition, she is dedicated to her degree.

“A lot of times you’ll see me at the airport, sitting there on my computer, doing my class assignments,” Lowe told USA Today.

In addition to being a champion high jumper Lowe is a student, aspiring teacher, and mother of two. Lowe wants to make her “passion for children,” and not just her own, a big part of her teaching career.

“I also want to be an advocate for abused children,” she said in USA Today. “That’s been in my heart since I was really young. I want to be in that position to be a help, a mentor, a friend, a parent. Whatever the children need, I want to be able to be there for them.”

Lowe’s enthusiasm outside of the classroom aligns well with yet another one of the Olympian’s titles: NEA student program member.
Chairperson of the NEA’s student program David Tjaden said the program focuses both on assuring teacher quality in the next generation of education professionals as well as community outreach.

“One way that NEA student members really stand out is that they’re not only great teachers, but they’re great citizens and community members,” Tjaden said.

And because of her success and drive on the field, Lowe seems to fit the bill of an NEA student member in more ways than one.

“We have some of the best leaders on campuses in our student program – they’re the ones who really strive to go above and beyond what they do,” Tjaden says. “We really pull students who want to be the best.”

But Lowe is not the first teacher-athlete to grace the Olympic stage. In 1932 Helen Johns Carroll won gold for the U.S. in the pool as a part of the women’s 400-freestyle team.

Carroll, believed to be the second-oldest living American female gold medalist, is a retired special education teacher.

Thirty years after Carroll, math teacher Mike Larrabee won two gold medals for Team USA in track-and-field during the Tokyo games.

And as Lowe becomes the latest teacher-athlete in the Olympic spotlight, the aspiring math teacher serves as yet another example of an educator with the drive, passion, and ability to achieve great feats – from winning Olympic gold to teaching high school math.

(You can follow Chaunte on Twitter and wish her the best)

Here is her schedule:

(UPDATE: Chaunte Lowe placed sixth in the Women’s High Jump Final after a 1.97m (6.46ft) jump. Again sporting hard-to-miss, day-glo knee socks and matching track shoes, the American recordholder was all smiles and had the crowd riled up every time she jumped – but was unable to clear the 2m (6.56ft) bar. London was Lowe’s third Olympics Games.

Do you know of other educator Olympians? Tell us about them!