COVINGTON -- Some might get tired of waking up before the sun comes out and coming to the same building every day for 20 years, but Ficquett Elementary School physical education teacher Donna Harris doesn't want it to end.
"I enjoy being active, and it's always something different every day," said Harris, who has taught PE at Ficquett for the past 20 years.
After teaching PE in north Georgia since 1977 and then being a stay-at-home mom for 10 years to the three daughters she shares with her husband Tony, a Newton County native, she began teaching PE at Ficquett.
"This is where I wanted to be because my children went here," she said.
Now, 20 years later, she enjoys coming to school as much as the day she started.
"In seventh grade, I knew I wanted to be a PE teacher," said the Canton native. "And my principal tried to talk me out of it -- he said girls are not meant to be PE teachers. But I've never had any regrets."
She's taught students from prekindergarten all the way through college, and she said teaching elementary school students at Ficquett has been the most rewarding.
"They are really enthusiastic and love moving and interacting," she said. "They'll try anything ... and you can make a difference in their lives, teaching them early how to be healthy."
Over the years, she's seen many changes -- unfortunately, she's seen more overweight children and also lately a lack of enthusiasm from them to play outside.
"So I'll talk to them about how to be active," she said. "We want them to realize that it doesn't have to be an organized sport or activity. They can go rake the yard, play or help their mom clean the house."
She also encourages her students to participate in the Fuzz Run in the fall and the Cheerios Challenge in the spring.
And she likes to keep them learning, even though they are in PE class.
From 8:15 to 2:10 p.m. each day in 55-minute classes, she will teach 45 to 60 students at one time in kindergarten through fifth grade. They learn various sports and activities, including fitness testing, throwing and catching, soccer, relay racing, jump rope, large group games and various dances.
But she also incorporates vocabulary, math and other subjects into their lessons.
"We also really integrate technology into PE," she said, adding that she uses projectors and interactive boards for warmups, pretests and to show graphics. "That's how they are wired now. It's a totally different type of PE program than when I started teaching."
In the next few years, when Newton County builds a new elementary school, Ficquett students and staff may have to move. But Harris hopes the Newton County School System keeps the historic building around as a school in some form.
"It's like home," Harris said, adding that her husband also attended the school and now teaches PE at Oxford College. "I like the community around here, and that it's like a neighborhood school."
Wherever she is, she knows that Newton County will continue to support her and her students.
"The Newton County community has always supported us. Businesses like General Mills, Snapping Shoals and the Newton County Community Partnership have always been willing to give grants to expand our PE equipment," she said. "It takes a whole community to really make a difference in these children's lives."
Her class also likes to give back to the community by participating in fundraisers like Jump Rope for Heart for the American Heart Association and the Elks Club Hoop Shoot, among others.