By Megan Roth
Life lessons come in all sorts of sizes and appearances. Sometimes they can be because of an act that was done or something you saw.
Maybe it was because of something you were told when you were very young and has stuck with you for the rest of your life.
That is what Classroom Champions is about, making a difference in children’s lives in areas that are under served in some way.
The program began in 2009 in the United States before moving north to Canada in the 2013/14 school year.
The purpose of Classroom Champions is to bring Olympic and Paralympic athletes into chosen classrooms to teach them different lessons and challenges for the kids to partake in. Classroom Champions gives a lot of help and support to the schools and the teachers as well.
A network of other teachers in the program are available for support and help if the instructors find they need it. Schools are also given technology needed to support the program. Many of the schools involved in the program cannot afford and do not have the equipment necessary to support the program.
Tablets, smart boards, and decently fast computers are items the instructors normally do not have access to in under-served areas. Classroom Champions provides these types of things to the school and teachers.
This is because better technology is needed in these days and times where first grade students are able to use a smart phone or tablet better and faster than most adults. Michelle Comeau, the community manager for Classroom Champions, said the program uses the technology for the athletes to communicate with the students.
“We are a year long mentoring program that helps the kids get more involved with and understand the community,” she explained. “Each month the athletes create a video and send it to the kids. The video gives the students a challenge they are to complete each month.”
The videos are tied into a curriculum the teachers are given. This means somehow all the classes are somehow involved in all aspects of classes.
For the students of Consul School, who were lucky enough to have the classes from Kindergarten to Grade 3 included in the program, they were able to take the lessons their athletes, two time World Cup gold medalist doubles luge Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, gave them and create something more.
As their athletes are accomplished athletes in the fast paced world of luge, the students created a luge track wherein they could track the amount of reading minutes all the students involved in the program have accomplished throughout the school year.
On the door to the Grade 2/3 classroom is decorated each month to coincide with whatever the lesson and challenge for that month is.
The monthly challenges and lessons sent to the students have been anything from perseverance to community to sportsmanship.
For the month of March the theme of the videos and exercises was courage. Students were encouraged what they thought it meant to be courageous.
“It is amazing to see some of the things the kids think it means to have courage. Ideas like standing up for what you believe in or following your dreams,” said Comeau.
The athletes themselves find it very rewarding themselves and find is often an eye opener for themselves.
“Sometimes making the videos can be really personal. There are times when we need a reminder about these things too,” said Tristan Walker.
He explained there are times when what they are talking about to the kids is very relevant to where they are in their life, like the idea of perseverance.
“There can be times when we are sitting somewhere and completely unsure what to do next when we start to make the videos,” explained Walker’s teammate Justin Snith who continued,”we’ll be talking about how it is important to keep going and to keep trying and something will just click.”
The videos almost become a “reality check” for the athletes as well as a lesson for the students in the schools they are partnered with.
The athletes came to Consul for the first time during a year of mentor ship. Half way through the year there was a day where they were able to video chat with the students.
“We’re interacting with each other all year, but being here in person and seeing the impact we have on these kids,” explained Walker.
Before volunteering to be part of the program both Walker and Snith had done school talks before but had never had the opportunity to see the impact their lessons and words had on the kids from the school. Both athletes agree Classroom Champions is a really good program and gave them the opportunity to become more of a mentor then a public speaker.
“It is great to see the change we have made with these kids,” said Walker.
“It would have been nice to have a program like this when I was in school,” said Snith.
Comeau said there has been marked and visible changes in the kids.
“They change the culture of the school. You see it in inter city school where a second grade student is being a leader within the school,” she explained.
Consul isn’t the only school in southwest Saskatchewan benefiting from the mentor ship of the World Cup and Olympic athletes. Shaunavon, Gull Lake and Eastend all have one class involved in Classroom Champions.
“It’s a really rewarding program,” said Comeau.
All of the videos the athletes sent to the classrooms can be viewed at the Classroom Champions website http://www.classroomchampions.org/