Brookline teacher mixes math and fitness

Kaplan helps a student write on the board at the end of the day on November 15. Photo by Sabrina Schnur/BU News Service.

By Sabrina Schnur
BU News Service

This article was previously published in the Brookline Tab.

“Draw a polygon — that’s a shape — with an area of 16 square units,” Leslie Kaplan told two third-grade girls as they struggled through an interactive activity.

It was 2 p.m., and her six students were working on multiplication and subtraction before their test at St. Mary’s, the Assumption Catholic School in Brookline. Kaplan cut out cards with different types of exercises on them and made packets for each pair of students to work on.

“We have work books and stuff, but I know that at least at this age they have such a limited attention span,” Kaplan said. “We tend to do something more artistic, hands on, group-based so we just are constantly moving in here.”

After this activity, the students gathered for “TTO,” or “time to organize.” During this time, all third-graders at St. Mary’s helped to clean their classroom and talked about their day, as well as tomorrow’s homework. Kaplan then walked her students downstairs to meet their parents.

To wind down after interacting with high-energy 8-year-olds all day, Kaplan usually spends 45 minutes with cardio and strength-training at a boot camp she’s been doing since February.

Most recently on Nov. 11, Kaplan and 35 other women at Burn Boot Camp in Newton ran the Spartan Sprint in Fenway, a 3-mile course with more than 20 obstacles.

“Last year I turned 35 and I challenged myself to do a half-marathon,” Kaplan said. “I did one in the fall, did another one in the spring … once that was over I just wanted a new challenge.”

Kaplan said the Spartan race was different from anything she had run before because she ran with a group of women. It was “surreal,” she said, how the course covered so much of the interior of Fenway Park.

“There were just parts of it that I never knew existed,” Kaplan said. “You’re running through the stands, we went back into the catering office, all the different types of decks — the team locker room at one point.”

She placed 246th in her age group and finished in an hour and a half. She was 1,947 out of the 2,019 women competing. Kaplan said she doesn’t train specifically for marathons and 5Ks, but she goes to boot camp at least five times a week.

“It’s a great workout and it’s my break between this madness and my home madness,” Kaplan said. “I’ve kind of always been an active person.”

Kaplan said her job as a teacher takes a lot of energy, but after almost 10 years she values seeing the people her students become before they move on to high school.

“I’m striving every day to find a way to connect with my students, usually through the curriculum,” Kaplan said. “Also day-to-day, what do they do when they leave my classroom?”

On most days after her workout at boot camp, Kaplan picks up her daughters, one who is already in a Jewish studies after-school program in their hometown of Needham. Kaplan predicts both of her daughters will be runners one day. Her 5-year-old was in a race on Nov. 18.

“My 3-year-old, before the Spartan race, gave me an eraser and she said, ‘This is your eraser for the race,’” Kaplan said, laughing. “I kept it in my pocket.”

Kaplan’s husband, John, said it’s incredible that “she sticks with it.”

“I’m definitely not a physically active person, so it’s not something that we share,” John Kaplan said. “But she loves it; she sticks to it.”

John Kaplan works for a software startup and said he’s on the road up to 80 percent of the week. He said his wife is “phenomenal.”

“She’s found her calling in teaching and she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her with what she’s doing there,” Kaplan said.

Theresa Kirk, principal of St. Mary’s, said Kaplan was one of her first hires after starting at the school six years ago. Kirk said Kaplan likely works harder than other teachers might have to when teaching her students the Catholic faith because she is a practicing member of Judaism.

“My religion lessons are really about kindness and I think that’s something that’s needed worldwide,” Kaplan said. “I don’t care what denomination you are, hopefully you can be on board with that.”

Kirk said Kaplan empathizes with parents more now because she and her husband have had two children since starting her job at St. Mary’s.

“She goes home at night and is a parent after school,” Kirk said. “Parents relate to that.”

Joyce Hannon said her daughter, Eva, is new to St. Mary’s, and she has appreciated how Kaplan keeps parents in the loop.

“I started getting emails from Leslie over the summer about what to expect for the classroom and reading lists and all this great stuff,” she said. “It was just a breath of fresh air to get emails from the teacher explaining everything.”

Hannon said her daughter did a Spartan kids race last year and loved it, too. The kids race was a mile long with several obstacles.

“They let them do it one or two times,” Hannon said. “They get a little medal at the end — it’s super fun.”

Hannon said Kaplan’s lessons on organizational skills have helped Eva manage her workload.

“She teaches the kids different strategies on how to be more organized, which I think is great and actually is helping my daughter getting through all of the third grade work,” she said.

The day after helping her students learn how to draw polygons and solve problems, Kaplan said she hoped they would be ready for a math test.

“These kids really make me smile,” she said.

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