This article was first published in Journeys Summer 2018. 

Twenty-eight-year old Byron Aguilar Rodriguez is the guy every kid wants to play with in the elementary school. In January, Aguilar began working as an intern assisting the Singapore American School physical education (PE) teachers early in the morning with setup and then establishing games and activities during playground times.

A Costa Rican, Aguilar grew up speaking Spanish but worked hard in college to learn the English language. With a degree in hotel management, Aguilar started out in the hospitality industry and later moved to Beijing, China, handling enterprise services for Blackberry. It only took a week on the job for Aguilar to decide this was not a career he intended to pursue.

When education came a-calling, Aguilar interned in the physical education department at the International School of Beijing as an autism aide and shadowed a student for two very challenging years. Not one to give up, Aguilar started to pursue distance education with Teach-Now in Washington, DC and earned his teaching certificate. Currently, he is working on a masters degree in early childhood education.

At SAS, Aguilar has been developing a pilot project, helping students with structured play during recess, building soft and hard skills, and aiming to meet American standards of physical activity and movement in children. We know that movement does matter. The underlying belief is: if you move well, you think well. Feel well. And live well.

Every major health organization from the World Health Organization, to the Center for Disease Control, and even United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommends that students get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

Working with students from kindergarten through third grade, Aguilar sometimes has 15, 30, or even 40 kids at one time, eager to participate in whatever “Mr. Byron” has to offer! “We’re first trying to encourage kids who are struggling to get involved. If they’re too shy, or don't like anything sporty, or they would like to play but don’t know how—that’s where I come in” says Aguilar. Struggling students feel a little more comfortable in participating in group activities, knowing there is a teacher around.

Aguilar is intentional about how he structures play. Sometimes students play simple tag games. At other times, there is something more structured like kickball where they make teams, find a strategy, and figure things out themselves. The desired student learning outcomes serve as a guide as students learn communication, collaboration, content knowledge, creativity, character, critical thinking, and cultural competence through play.

“If kids are not doing something it's because they don't know what to do or because they don't have that choice,” says Aguilar. The PE department has recently introduced some old school games like four square and hopscotch, bought equipment like jump ropes, buckets, bean bags and more, and fixed the basketball hoops, so students have more voice and choice even when it comes to playing.

In 2018-19, Aguilar will come on board as a recreation specialist in the elementary school PE department and continue to work as part of our community, making sure that our students get what they need, even while at play.

  • Social, Emotional and Service Learning