Entering Ms. Yenne’s combined 3rd and 4th grade classroom, I was immediately charged with the students’ overpowering enthusiasm and excitement - stopped in my tracks as if a power line had brushed my skin. Surveying the overall scene of the children buzzing around, I could have been fooled that it was the upcoming Winter break that had them so jazzed. But it was better than that! Today was the day that they would Skype with their Olympian role-model, Erin Hamlin, luge world champion and two-time Olympian.
Ms. Yenne's combined 3rd/4th grade class, West Elementary School. Minutes drag as they wait for the call to start.
Ms. Yenne’s class from West Elementary in Colorado Springs, CO participates in a unique program called “Classroom Champions”. Founded by Steve Mesler, Bobsled Olympic Gold Medalist in the 2010 Winter games and his sister, Leigh Mesler Parise, a Ph.D. in Educational Policy, Classroom Champions is a non-profit organization that connects Olympians and Paralympians with students in high-need schools, targeting grades kindergarten through grade 8. They use video lessons and live video chats to motivate students to recognize their potential, set goals and dream big, while educating them in the practical use of communications technology.
The students hustle to get the room ready for the Skype call
Not all children are fortunate enough to grow up with strong role models who encourage them to envision for themselves a bright and successful future. Ms. Yenne’s students have been given that advantage through this program for the 2012-2013 school year, paired with mentor Erin Hamlin, who resides while training in Lake Placid, NY. Up until this point the class has received routine video lessons created by Erin on such topics as goal setting, playing fair, and inspiring others, and the students have created their own videos in return. But this will be the first chance they have had to interact “live” with her through Skype. Oh, it’s a big day!
The students have been looking forward to this call for a while, and have prepared on note cards written questions they want to ask Erin. It’s 30 minutes until show time and Ms. Yenne has the students practice asking their questions with each other to ensure they're ready for the call.
Students practice asking their prepared questions with other students
Students' questions ranged from knowing more about her personally to her sport
The Skype call connects without a hitch, and the normally fidgety students sit motionless at their desks, hanging on every word Erin says.
The anticipated talk with Erin begins
Absorbing every word his Olympian role model says
In sets of four, Ms. Yenne instructs the students to go to the back of the class and get ready to sit at the computer to have their personal conversation with Erin.
Teacher, Ms. Yenne, keeps the call flowing with every child getting a turn to talk
Students eagerly wait their turn to speak with Erin one-on-one
The students are well prepared and anxious for their time to chat with Erin live. Some of the students carefully read from their rehearsed questions, while others get excited in the moment and ad lib their chat! Either way, Erin is gracious and excited to answer all their questions, relating stories about her training, her travels for competition, and her personal journey to this point as well as dreams for the upcoming winter Olympics.
This student asks Erin each of her written questions
This student lets his enthusiasm carry him through the call
The 45 minutes have flown by and the students wrap up the conversation, planning with Erin future calls with her when she heads to Russia. It is time to hang up and the kids break their demeanor and enthusiastically turn to the back of the room to face the microphone, jump into the air, and shout their thanks and good-byes.
"Can't wait to do this again. Thanks, Erin!"
What an experience today has been, witnessing first-hand how kids, especially in high-need environments, respond to positive role models and to the Olympic ideals.
I would love to hear from you your comments about Classroom Champions and/or other thoughts about athlete role models for at-risk youth.