Fresh Start


Ella Rose

Matt Petersen demonstrates an exercise for a student. He has always loved coaching. “If you were to walk into a gym and you took my class, I want you to feel very comfortable, and be able to create your own fitness plan,” Petersen said.

Matt Petersen, Community High School’s (CHS) newest gym teacher, moved to Ann Arbor from Quincy, Ill., where he had been teaching physical education.

“Anytime we’ve talked to people about Ann Arbor, [they] rave about how beautiful it is and how nice of a place it is, so I thought it’d be a great fit for [my girlfriend and I],” Petersen said.

The school district Petersen had taught in previously is a similar educational setting to Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS). CHS Dean Marci Tuzinski and the staff at Slauson Middle School (SMS) were able to work together to create a position that was full-time, in which Petersen splits his time between SMS and CHS.

“I know that Community is a different environment than other schools,” Petersen said. “However, I’m a person who’s diverse in my mindset and my thinking, and I enjoy dealing with students in an educational setting where everyone’s diverse in their mindset.”

Petersen taught sixth, seventh and eighth grade in Illinois; this is the 28-year-old’s first experience teaching at a high school level, but he has coached students from kindergarten to high school.

“I really enjoy the challenge of pushing students to continue to stay engaged in their personal fitness and take an interest in their overall health,” Petersen said. “Helping all the students in my classes realize that their overall fitness is important, and that what they’re going to learn here and what we do can [stay] with them for the rest of their life is important.”

When it comes to physical education, Petersen’s ultimate goal for his students is to give them the tools they need to reach their full physical potential. He encourages his students to pay more attention to their overall health and fitness.

“If you were to walk into a gym and you took my class, I want you to feel very comfortable, and be able to create your own fitness plan,” Petersen said.

Petersen was inspired to go into teaching and coaching by his family and childhood coaches. His mother, uncle and grandmother were all teachers. He played baseball and football growing up and his high school football coach, in particular, was a great mentor and inspired Petersen to be a coach. When he presented the idea of becoming a teacher to his family, they were very supportive. Petersen has had many coaching opportunities alongside his career as a P.E. teacher. Petersen wants to go back to school eventually to get his Masters’s in educational leadership and have a role in administration as an assistant principal or an athletics and activities director. Moving from Quincy to Ann Arbor was not a jarring shift for Petersen. He went to college in Normal, Illinois, a town with a similar population and college town feel. Outdoor activity opportunities are one of the main aspects of Ann Arbor Petersen appreciates.

“When you drive around, it’s very pedestrian and eco-friendly,” Petersen said. “You have people out and about biking all the time.”

Nature has been an important part of Petersen’s life since he got a job maintaining a private park near his house in the summer after his junior year of high school. He would mulch trails, whack weeds and mow grass.

“[That park is] my favorite place to go nature-wise, you develop a love for nature and just being outside every day,” Petersen said. “Fresh air and a peaceful environment [draws me to nature.] Everything’s very calming. The woods and outdoors are a great place to go to clear your head and be one with your thoughts.”