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The three words are almost a Townsend Harris rite of passage at this point: they offer testament to the fact that a Harrisite has endured trials, drawing respect from whoever should be present to hear them—“I had Hanson.”
Athletic Director and teacher of Physical Education and Health Keith Hanson will be retiring
after twenty-seven years of teaching at Townsend Harris. In his time at the school, he has overseen student participation in the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) as well as being the only teacher who currently teaches both Physical Education and Health. Specifically in regard to the former, Mr. Hanson has developed a reputation for himself as a strict educator, to the point where his pedagogy has become infamous among the students and faculty.
“I’ve mindfully cultivated that reputation as a tough gym teacher,” Mr. Hanson noted. “[Physical health] is important, and the only thing you can do to get [students] addicted to it is to get them to work hardcore… it’s just not something that works in the moderate. It’s the kids I can never get to work out hard that never get addicted.”
“He gave us tough exercises to do because he knew we could do them, if we’re not lazy and don’t complain,” said freshman Nina Zhang, who had him for freshman Physical Education. “He’s very different from all my gym teachers in the past. If a student didn’t want to do an exercise, my teachers would just let them sit out, but Hanson knows that we can do better than just give up.”
Mr. Hanson has made a discernible impact on his colleagues as well. “Mr. Hanson has been teaching here since I was a student at Townsend Harris,” said Physical Education teacher Lauren Caiaccia. “I never had him as a teacher, but we all knew him. Mr. Hanson is hard-working, dedicated, and a great teacher. He’ll be dearly missed.”
“Mr. Hanson has forgotten more about health and fitness than most people learn in their lifetimes,” commented Heath teacher Maria Assante, who is the school’s only other Health teacher besides Mr. Hanson. “It has been wonderful working with him…we’ve been a team; sharing what we know about health has been a wonderful experience.”
Ms. Assante has been teaching at the school for seven years, dwarfed by Mr. Hanson’s 20; she likens their relationship to that of mentor-mentee. “When I first got here, he showed me the Townsend ropes. I learned a lot from him… whoever comes in next sure has big shoes to fill.”
In a 1988 observational report, former Assistant Principal Bernice Horowitz wrote to the then newly-appointed Mr. Hanson, “Your stance and good diet [have] made you a role model for many students and you have become an authority on many subjects.”
Serving as the school’s Athletic Director for the past three years, Mr. Hanson’s responsibility has encompassed the supervision of the school’s involvement in PSAL. He administers all necessary policies and procedures, representing the school in “all matters related to athletics.” Since he started working at the school, Mr. Hanson has also been coach of the boys track and basketball teams, as well as the girls soccer team.
“Although I only knew him for the two years I was here, he was very welcoming,” commented boys track captain junior Abdoulaye Diallo. “I remember being ineligible to run because I was a transfer student and he got me matriculated back into PSAL in the very first two weeks of school. He genuinely cares for his students and his athletes… he was a guide for all us athletes and he’s what makes the Townsend Harris athletic experience so great.”
“He definitely has a mentoring relationship with a lot of the kids,” Ms. Assante commented. “He gets kids to change their behaviors and outlooks.”
A multitude of student anecdotes illustrate this concept. “[Mr. Hanson] was talking about this idea that if we try our hardest when we work out, we could learn to try our hardest when we do anything,” said freshman Zorana Dragasevic. “He told us, ‘if you tried your best at being a person, imagine how good you could be?’ I think that’s the day when I realized that the gruesome two mile runs were much more than sweat-pouring struggles and that Mr. Hanson is more than just a gym teacher.”
“At the Sports Award dinner, there was such a positive vibe there of students who truly loved fitness and athletic activity,” Assistant Principal of Organization, Health, and Physical Education Helen Fee commented. “When Mr. Barbetta announced Mr. Hanson’s retirement, the students all gave him a huge round of applause and there were many tearful hugs and [words of] thanks. Mr. Hanson’s passion for working hard and working to [one’s] potential will never be forgotten.”
Mr. Hanson plans to revive his other business as a public speaker of physical fitness and nutrition in his retirement. He also plans to spend more time with his recently-born grandson.
“I’ve spent almost half my life here, so I will miss it,” Mr. Hanson concluded. “I will miss it, I will miss the kids more than anything…there’s nothing more fulfilling than getting kids to like working hard. To have that sense of accomplishment. That’s something they’ll continue for the rest of their lives.”