The Hockey Canada Skills Academy to begin in two Saskatchewan schools this fall aims for a 50/50 split between male and female participants. Photo courtesy Hockey Canada

Hockey to augment school’s curriculum

By 
  • June 6, 2021

The Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) hopes to be part of the new normal at two schools in southern Saskatchewan when the next school year resumes.

After two years of interruptions to in-person learning and sports programs due to COVID, kids with a passion for hockey will be able to experience some of their school learning on ice through the pilot program. The skills academy will operate in St. Michael School in Weyburn and Sacred Heart School in Estevan come the 2021-22 school year. 

Schools in the region just returned to in-person learning after their most recent interruption which involved three weeks of virtual school due to COVID. Extra curriculars have been on pause the whole school year.

“Our students have struggled greatly with that inability to play those sports that they were passionate about,” said Amber Hilstrom, principal at Sacred Heart School which covers pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8. “Many of our students are very active so this year has hit them hard. This is just a way to be able to provide them with more opportunities in hopes that things are opening up next year when we return.”

Both elementary schools, located roughly a two-hour drive southeast of Regina, will have 50 spots open for students in Grades 6 and up who will go through an application process to be considered. Students will head to the rink twice a week for half a day with provincial curriculum driving the program outcomes in areas such as physical education, science, math, health and anything else educators are able to incorporate.

With both on-ice and off-ice components, students will engage in school work as well as power skating and hockey drills.

As a community with plenty of hockey families, Chad Fingler, superintendent of school operations with the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division, says a students’ passion for the game will be used to fuel how they learn.

“When you’ve got a kid that really wants to play hockey they’re going to go to the rink and through hockey, their teachers are going to be aligning their learning to that,” said Fingler. “So whether it’s a design outcome or diagramming hockey drills onto a piece of paper, they can through hockey work with various math concepts such as vectors and angles. They can also start to use that hockey planning for goal setting, health curriculums and making action plans for healthy lifestyles and wellbeing. It’s all of the same (lessons) they would be doing in the classroom except at the ice rink instead. The learning will be tied to their hockey and passion.”

Fingler had been looking for partnerships with organizations outside of traditional school walls when he was approached by a parent involved in minor hockey about HCSA. As part of the Deeper Learning network of schools which explores different and individualized approaches to providing students with relevant learning opportunities, Fingler was in search of ways to engage students in learning through real-life experiences. Given the strong hockey culture in the two school communities, the skills academy felt like the perfect fit.

The HCSA program began in 2001 and has been in regions across the nation ever since. Currently in 150 schools across Canada, there are 5,500 students participating in the skills academy every year. The program is run in almost every province and in the Yukon Territory. Catholic schools make up 40 per cent of all those participating in the initiative.

A fully inclusive program, it is open to any student to apply regardless of skill level, making it a great way for late starters to the sport to become integrated. One of the core mandates is to get more girls involved, said Teal Gove, manager of hockey development at Hockey Canada. Both schools are aiming for a 50/50 split between male and female participants in the program.

As individual girls register, Gove has found that many more decide to sign up so they can be in the same class with their friends. Things tend to snowball from there, expanding the opportunity for more kids to get into the sport long term.

“We want this to be a way that students are introduced to hockey and then hopefully after a year or two in the skills academy, they want to join a minor hockey team as well,” said Gove. “It’s for sure meant to be skills development, to help students who are already playing but also designed to welcome new players to the game.”

The program will include a partnership with the Weyburn Red Wings and the Estevan Bruins, teams in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

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