It’s All about Kids at Cornell! A Welcome Interview with Coach Joel Gildersleeve

By Rachael Stryker

Welcome back to Cornell, everyone! And a special welcome to our new Kindergarten families!

Every year, the Cornell Elementary PTA sponsors over twenty fundraisers and community-building events for the school. Are you wondering what kind of spirit and dedication it takes to make them a success? Well, there is probably no better person to help show you how it’s done than Cornell’s own Coach Joel Gildersleeve. From designing obstacle courses for our fall Silly Olympics to hosting the annual Halloween Parade, from emceeing our springtime Cornell’s Got Talent! to helping kids make their best times at the annual Coyote Fun Run, Coach Joel demonstrates the kind of Cornell commitment that we hope parents will bring and share with everyone this upcoming school year.

⇒ Click here to Download a detailed list of all PTA-Sponsored Events throughout the school year.

Below is an interview with Coach Joel to welcome everyone back to Cornell, and to remind us how each of us can put our own personal stamp on what it means to be a Cornell Coyote.

Hint: It’s “All about Kids!”

RS: Coach Joel, what is your official title, and how long have you worked, at Cornell?

CJ: My official title is Full-time Physical Education Specialist.  I am entering my ninth year this school year, and I can’t believe it. Time really does fly when you’re having fun (and when you get older!). My number one duty at Cornell is to provide a top notch physical education experience to K-5 students. I teach each class twice a week (rain or shine!), incorporating California PE Standards and National PE Standards. On top of this, I also am the Noontime Activities Director, which means I provide extra sports/game activities five days a week to all 1st through 5th grade students during lunch recess, as well as coordinate equipment/activities with two YMCA staff who run their own activities as well.

RS: What three words would you use to describe Cornell, and why?

CJ: The main three I’d use are: ALL ABOUT KIDS.

When I arrive at Cornell every morning, my goal is to brighten kids’ lives, provide enriching PE activities, make them feel welcomed, valued, and part of the Coyote community. Empowering me on this mission is every single teacher and staff person at Cornell. It’s such a great feeling to be part of a staff/team that values children’s social, emotional, and academic learning and growth as much as we all do at Cornell. It inspires me to be the best teacher I can be: present, patient, prepared, positive, creative, enthusiastic, and fair.

RS: What jobs have you held before, and what is the story of how you came to work at Cornell? 

CJ: Through my employment with Albany Sports Camp (now City of El Cerrito Sports Camp), I met Martha Schneidau, who was then the SDC Director at Ocean View Elementary. She had a daughter in the summer sports camp who attended Ocean View, and so she invited me to apply for a job there. I began working in AUSD during the 1999-2000 school year as a classroom and SDC aide at Ocean View. I loved it. I was continually impressed at the high caliber of teaching I witnessed, and I enjoyed being around such a dedicated, positive group of teachers and staff with one goal in common: to provide children with a top quality education, all the while fostering life skills such as compassion and community.

Continuing to work part-time (mostly at Ocean View) and go to school, I eventually began substitute teaching in AUSD and at Ecole Bilingue Berkeley. After I earned a Multiple Subject Credential from San Francisco State University, I began teaching in third, fourth, and sixth grade classrooms. This entire time, I was also working with kids in Albany and El Cerrito, coaching recreational sports on the weekends and during the summer. I then went back to SFSU to earn my PE teaching credential, while teaching part-time at Ocean View. When I heard news of an opening for a full-time PE teacher at Cornell, I was the first in line to apply. The rest is history!

RS: What are some of the PTA-sponsored events you’ve taken part in since coming to work at Cornell?

CJ: Every fall, for Silly Olympics, I design an obstacle course for kids to walk/crawl/hop through. I also organize and emcee Cornell’s annual Halloween Parade, setting up the track and seating for classrooms, choosing music, and attempting to announce whose turn it is to walk around the track. It’s always a memorable day each year at Cornell. Also, this October, I am collaborating with a number of parents to put on a first-time event called Water World. It’s a Saturday afternoon water extravaganza PTA fundraiser at Cornell, and it should be a blast.

In the spring, I emcee Cornell’s Got Talent!, Cornell’s annual talent show, as well as coach student emcees who join me onstage for the performance. I also emcee the Dance-o-Rama, which is similar to being a game show host for a night! And I help coordinate the Coyote Fun Run for over 500 PE students each May!

RS: Which PTA-sponsored events are your favorites, and why?

CJ: I really love them all. I think that my favorite event is Cornell’s Got Talent, which usually takes place in March. It’s really a special night, and I love seeing all the talents that our Cornell Coyotes have, that most of the time I really had no idea they had. They sing, they dance, they entertain. It’s a star-studded night, and I also enjoy the challenge of teaching the student emcees backstage. They are the next generation of emcees! I also really enjoy Dance-o-Rama, just due to its sheer crowd-pleasing massiveness. It’s got loud music, prizes, contests, food, a toy store, raffles, and more. Although it’s a challenging assignment for me, it is a lot of fun. As long as my microphone has full power that is!

RS: Tell me about a time you’ve made a difference for students at Cornell.

CJ: One specific difference I have made is that I have gotten many thousands of dollars’ worth of PE equipment for Cornell from various local and national PE grants over the years. Numerous parachutes of all sizes, exercise mats, balance boards, lacrosse sticks, badminton racquets, agility ladders, gym mats, foam balls, cones, hurdles, activity books, and much more. All of this equipment makes PE much more engaging and rich for all of our students.

RS: Many people were happy to see that your daughter, Grace, began attending Cornell as a Kindergartner last year. What does it mean to you to have her go to our school?

CJ: Having Grace attend Cornell is really cool! I know she will have great teachers, and get to play all the fun PE games I make up. Many elementary schools in this area don’t have PE teachers. Instead, they have extra recess each week with their teacher and that is what they refer to as their physical education. But Physical Education is actually much more than that. It can build physical skill development in many areas, teach cooperative and teamwork skills, boost self-confidence, build a foundation for a life of movement, encourage lifelong fitness, promote healthy lifestyles, and develop creativity. Giving my daughter the chance to experience my vision of quality physical education during her foundational years means the world to me. Also, knowing she is in the best of hands in the classroom is very reassuring as well.

Cornell Parents! Do you want to “Roll like Joel” and volunteer for some PTA fundraisers and community-building events for this upcoming year? There are always plenty of opportunities! If so, please be sure to contact the PTA’s VP of Volunteers, Natascha Puchner-Doppler, at: vpvolunteers@cornellpta.org Natascha will work with you to figure out what the best opportunities are for you.

Again, welcome (back) to Cornell! The PTA is excited to see each and every one of you this year!