Thornhill Annual Fund - Meet "Coach" Zach Johnson
Thu, Nov 12 1:42pm

This week we're highlighting our amazing Thornhill PE teacher, Zach Johnson, known to the kids as "Coach."  While distance learning has our kids doing all their academics at home, we parents are recognizing how incredibly important it is to keep these kids moving and motivated. Coach  has worked hard to pivot his PE curriculum to work over Zoom. While your kids are doing their burpees and yoga moves in your living room, know that PE at Thornhill is funded by your donations to the Thornhill Annual Fund.

Let's meet Coach! 

How long have you been teaching at Thornhill?

I started working at Thornhill in November of 2014—first as a substitute PE teacher, then as a full-time one. I’ve been a classroom teacher for Oakland Unified since 2000, and have been a school teacher since 1992. Most of that time I taught 2nd grade, but I've also taught 1st, 4th, and 5th.

What do you like best about the students and community at our school?

The community at Thornhill is wonderful—the interconnectedness, the involvement of the parents. The way that the kids get along, both inside and outside of school, inside and outside of class. I see kindness and respect, in the way that older kids look after and mentor younger ones and in the way all the children play together, irrespective of whatever differences they may have.

Why did you choose to become a PE teacher?

PE is really important, particularly to elementary students. A healthy lifestyle, with physical activity will result in a much higher quality of life, and have long lasting positive health effects. Kids these days have so many options and distractions that encourage sedentary activities.

I feel it is important to offer an opportunity and an example of how fun and easy healthy exercise can be. I was not a jock, or even a sporty kid, growing up. I didn't like PE as a kid (gasp!), so I know and understand the reluctance that some kids feel about it. Those are the kids that I really want to reach, and that I think I am best at reaching, and that need the knowledge of how physical activity can be something for them.

What is PE so important for K-5 kids?   

  • PE Reduces Stress - Physical activity becomes an outlet for releasing tension and anxiety, and facilitates emotional stability and resilience.
  • PE Supports Learning in Other Subject Areas - PE reinforces knowledge learned across the curriculum. It serves as a lab for application of content in science, math, and social studies.
  • PE Strengthens Peer Relationships - Physical education can be a major force in helping children socialize with others successfully and provides opportunities to learn positive people skills. 

How you’ve pivoted PE during distance learning?

These days, when so many of the messages that our kids get are to stay inside, and our interactions all seem to center around screens, I feel that PE, or any physical activity, is even more important! I've had to alter (or completely change) the PE program to function on Zoom. We do a lot more stretching, yoga, and calisthenics than we used to, but the goals are still the same: to help kids be active and to enjoy it, and to be encouraged to make healthy choices.

Thank you, Coach!


Please consider ANY SIZE donation to the Thornhill Annual Fund:

  • By Check: Please fill out our online form, make your check payable to “Thornhill PFC” and mail to: Thornhill Annual Fund, 6265 Virgo Road, Oakland, CA 94611. 
  • Online: Click here to fill out the donation form and donate via PayPal.

Questions? Please email us at

Thank you for supporting Thornhill!

Adrienne Selke & Rianna Stoll
Co-Chairs, Thornhill Annual Fund