Not many people choose to leave the bustling and profitable world of Wall Street, especially to teach middle school—but John DeMatteo did.
As an equities trader, DeMatteo found that after two-and-a-half years, it didn’t bring him happiness.
“I always wanted to be a phys ed teacher, he said while munching on a piece of salmon sushi at Whole Foods.
Physical education, he added, “was always a driving force in my life and I wanted to instill that motivation into my kids.”
When DeMatteo—known as Mr. D to students and parents—first came to the Manhattan Academy of Technology (M.A.T.), the P.E. department was not only laughable, it was basically non-existent. There was no equipment, no sports program, no real place for kids to get the exercise they needed at the Catherine Street school.
“That was one of the big reasons I wanted to go to that school, to build something,” he said. “They supported me in everything I wanted to do.”
Now, six years after DeMatteo took over, M.A.T. has the largest sports program in the history of the city. Specialties include a soccer team, rock climbing wall, girl’s softball, handball, track and field, girl’s volleyball, basketball, surfing and even a bowling team that meets at Bowlmor Lanes. There are 21 different sports and about 40 different teams at the school now.
Born and raised in The Bronx, the 35-year-old teacher looks young and radiates energy and enthusiasm.
“My emphasis on phys ed is I wanted it to be fun. I realized for a lot of kids growing up meant being hit in the face with a dodge ball,” DeMatteo said. “I wanted the feeling that every kid that left the gym had more confidence than when they walked in.”
Not only does DeMatteo still get letters from past students telling him how much he changed sports and fitness for them, but his M.A.T. curriculum has created a model for a physical education that other schools have emulated. He has even been asked to help organized a sport program in Hong Kong.
“He has accomplished what no physical education teacher before him has,” said parent Ann DeFalco. “He has changed the very face of how his subject is being perceived and taught.”
DeMatteo has even raised the bar for sports programs beyond M.A.T., by helping to create teams at other schools so his students would have groups to compete against.
“Because of John,” DeFalco said, “not only are the children of his school brimming with confidence and self worth, but thousands of children from over 100 New York City schools have him to thank for the opportunities they have in physical education and athletics.”
Physical Education, Manhattan Academy of Technology (I.S. 126)
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