Four-time Olympic medallist and hometown hero Hayley Wickenheiser made a virtual visit to Laura Keranen’s Grade 4 classroom at Shaunavon Public School on Thursday.
The video chat was part of a full-year program called Classroom Champions that marries Olympians and Paralympians with classrooms across Canada, the U.S., and Costa Rica to deliver a series of lessons using the latest in technology.
Every month, Wickenheiser delivers a new lesson based on the Classroom Champions curriculum via video.
Keranen then updates Wickenheiser via blogs, videos and photos on the students’ progress and projects related to the subject matter.
Thursday’s virtual visit, which saw Hayley chat and interact with students directly, was made possible through the program’s funding partner Crescent Point Energy.
On Thursday, the Public School students – through an internet feed – got an opportunity to ask Hayley a series of questions that ranged from her most cherished Olympic memories to her favourite activities away from the rink.
“Isn’t technology amazing,” smiled Hayley as she exchanged “hellos” with the Grade 4 students.
Hayley is expected to be named to Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team for the upcoming games in Sochi. The international event is set to run from Feb 7 to 23, 2014.
“I hope to be going to Sochi,” she told the students. “It’s just a few months away – actually it’s less than 80 days away.”
Hayley, of course, is no stranger to the Olympics.
As an Olympian, she earned a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics and three Olympic gold medals in 2002, 2006 and most recently at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. She was also named to the Canadian softball team for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
During her 20 minute virtual chat with students on Thursday, Hayley talked about playing hockey in Shaunavon and how she first learned to skate on an outdoor rink made by her dad. The rink, created at their First Street East home, hosted a bevy of neighbourhood scrimmage games.
“I built a shooting gallery in my garage (at her home in Calgary) and made it look like a real NHL rink,” Hayley told the students. “And I still use the same net that a neighbour welded when I was 10 years old. I’ve had that net for 25 years.”
Hayley played hockey on boys teams in Shaunavon, and later in Calgary, until she was chosen, at 15 years old, to play for the Canadian Women’s National Team.
Hayley also spoke glowingly about her own experience at Shaunavon Public School. In fact, she was classmates with some of the parents of students in Keranen’s Grade 4 class.
“My dad was a teacher at (Shaunavon Public School),” she said. “And on weekends we would use the gym at the school to play basketball, floor hockey and other games.”
“I had a lot of fun going to your school,” she added. “I had some awesome teachers, just like you do now.”
When asked by a student about what first inspired her to become an Olympian, Hayley spoke about travelling to the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary with her parents and seeing ski jumper Matti Nykänen of Finland. Nykänen won five Olympic medals including gold at Calgary.
“Who would have thought a ski jumper would inspire me, from the flatland prairies, to be an Olympian,” laughed Hayley.
She also provided the kids with some other personal insights, including her penchant for juggling balls as a warm up routine before games, riding dirt bikes with her brother (“I shouldn’t tell you that maybe because my parents aren’t thrilled about that”) and her plans to travel to Africa with her son Noah next year.
Hayley will also join a different kind of team for a future expedition to raise money for military veterans.
“I will be walking to the North Pole on skies,” she told the students.
Hayley’s next live chat with students will take place in the New Year.
“The next time I do another chat with you it will be after the Olympics,” she added. “I hope we have a good experience at Sochi and we can talk about that.”
“I know you will be cheering us on and I just want you to know that I will be thinking of you,” she stated.
The classroom was still buzzing with excitement after the video exchange had ended.
“That was awesome,” said several students in the class.
Classroom Champions was created in 2009 by bobsled champion Steve Mesler, and his sister Leigh Parise, PhD, who invited classrooms throughout their native U.S. and his resident Canada to accompany him on his personal Olympic journey by interacting with students through online communication.
Despite the training and competition requirements that resulted in Mesler pushing the U.S. to its first Olympic gold medal in the four-man bobsled in 62 years at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he delivered on his commitment to regularly check in with kids from his adopted classrooms through video conferencing and blogs.
A Calgary resident since 2003, Mesler expanded Classroom Champions to include more schools in Canada.
The program has attracted top Olympians and Paralympians as Athlete Mentors for Canadian classrooms in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan; including Wickenheiser, Sam Edney, Brittany Schussler, Lucas Makowsky, Brad Spence, Brittany Webster, and Danie Sundquist.
More than 25 schools opened their doors to Classroom Champions’ Canadian expansion this fall.
Classroom Champions not only connects the athlete mentors to the students, but also provides numerous opportunities for teachers to share lesson plans and ideas, and give parents, program sponsors, and the general public a glimpse into both the lessons – including fair play – and the resulting classroom projects and student work that follow each subject.
The Grade 4 students at Shaunavon Public School have already participated in several projects connected with the program, including those that focus on community involvement and goal setting.