Amber Schweitzer, Physical Education Teacher at Castle View High School, will be flying to New York soon to receive an award for "Educator of the Year" at the 2016 RESPECT Awards.

Let’s face it, high school can be tough. While there are many highlights along the way with making friends and winning games, popularity aside, there are students who struggle to ‘fit in.’ Castle View High School Teacher, Amber Schweitzer, is working to change that by encouraging students to understand the diversity among their peers.

“I’ve taught Physical Education at Castle View High School for almost three years,” she stated. While Schweitzer spends a good portion of the year teaching yoga, she also rallies students to use ropes for rock climbing for the ‘Adventure Experience’ unit.

“We have fun during that unit and do a lot of physical activity with rock climbing, using high ropes,” Scweitzer said. On the surface, the class teaches them how to safely ascend the summit, while the bigger picture has them develop necessary trust and team building skills, despite their differences.

She has also been working to develop a course on making healthy decisions. “It’s a unit that’s all inclusive of health,” she continued, “We cover important issues like mental health, suicide prevention, gender and sexuality, diet and exercise.” The class gives teens an open forum to discuss topics that are sometimes uncomfortable to talk about.

“I try to present vocabulary and explain it so there’s an understanding of what the vocabulary is and what it means,” remarked Schweitzer. The course tries to present current terminology to give a general knowledge without offending anyone’s personal beliefs.

“Besides gender and sexuality, some of the more sensitive issues we touch on are bullying and eating disorders.” said Schweitzer. “Some of these things students have never felt comfortable to talk about before the class.”

This year, unknown to Schweitzer,  her class made a positive impact in the life of one of her students. So much so, that the student, who chose to remain anonymous, worked with another teacher at Castle View to submit an essay for Schweitzer to be considered for “Educator of the Year’ at the 2016 RESPECT Awards. “I read the nomination and it was very touching,” she said.

Introduced in 2004, the RESPECT awards are produced by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network- an organization that recognizes educators, individuals and corporations that have made a positive impact in the lives of LGBT youth.  Schweitzer won the nomination and will be recognized this year for devoting her teaching to ensuring a safe and inviting environment for all students.

“I want to be the teacher that students feel safe to come to with sensitive questions or issues,” noted Schweitzer. Because she knows that when students don’t have anyone to talk to and react to safely, it can cause a mix of feelings that can lead to things like suicide or other negative outcomes.

But she’s not letting the recognition of flying to New York to accept her award this weekend at the RESPECT Awards go to her head. Schweitzer hopes she can continue to be an educator who is teaches teens about understanding and acceptance. “I do what I do because that’s what I do, but to see that I made a difference to even one student was really cool.”