Gold Medal Learning

Gold Medal Learning

Pierre Fredy, Baron de Coubertin – considered the founder of the modern Olympic Games – was first and foremost an educator.

Education was his passion and Olympism was a means of blending sport with culture and education to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

Sounds very much like the character development programs in schools across the province, doesn’t it?

by Suzanne Blake, OCT

Chan, Botterill, Condie and Labonté are a few of the Olympic-bound and Paralympic athletes providing inspiration to Ontario students.

Canadian figure skating champion Patrick Chan’s most recent visit to Dundas PS in the Toronto DSB was in October. But for the last three years, he has been visiting the school regularly and sending e-mail updates from competitions around the world, all the while working toward his goal of competing in Vancouver this February.

Rachelle Landry, OCT, teaches Grades 4/5 at Dundas PS and has taken the lead on the Adopt an Athlete program there.

“I’ve always valued sports,” Landry explains. So when she received an e-mail from principal Maria Arone, OCT, who was looking for someone to organize and run the program at the school, she jumped at the chance.

“It was a great opportunity for the students to see someone involved in sports as a positive role model.”

Landry says there was no particular preference about which sport – any athlete training for the Olympics could motivate and inspire the students. But since the school population is about 85 per cent Asian-Canadian, there was hope for an Asian-Canadian athlete. The match with figure skater Patrick Chan has proven to be an inspiration for the entire school.

From Chan’s first presentation – at a school assembly – Landry’s colleagues were impressed. Of course, everyone loved the wow factor of having such a famous and prestigious athlete at the school, but best of all the program has given students a strong, mature and positive role model, someone who exemplifies many positive values, including giving back to the community.

“He has taught the children how to set goals and persevere and that not everything you want in life comes easy.”

Students write letters to Chan and send him e-mails. A bulletin board in the hallway makes sure that everyone gets the latest news on Chan, who sends e-mails and postcards from around the world. As for face-to-face interaction, Chan has brought his medals, videos of his skating and his own trading cards to share with students. On one visit he brought two garbage bags full of stuffed animals that fans had thrown to him on the ice after a competition.

“It’s been great for the students to meet an athlete who has travelled the world, who they’ve seen on TV, and yet who is just like you and me,” says Landry. “Patrick is human; he has his ups and downs.” The ongoing relationship provides students with a pretty realistic perspective on the athlete’s achievements.

“He has taught the children how to set goals and persevere and that not everything you want in life comes easy,” she says. The lesson is valuable and perhaps better learned because not only do they admire him, “they can relate to him.”

That’s exactly what program manager Lisa Wallace wants to hear.

“As with all our education programs,” she says, “the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is trying to engage Canadians in the Olympic movement.” She hopes that through interaction with the Olympians, students and their families will grow to be lifelong fans of Canada’s Olympic team.

For both Wallace and the teachers at participating schools, the hope is that the students will be inspired to pursue their own goals, whether in sport or other activities.

Landry recounts that a teacher at Dundas PS told her of a previously shy and quiet JK student who couldn’t stop talking about Patrick after meeting him at one of the assemblies and seeing a video of him skating. It was one of the very first times that this little boy spoke out loud to his classmates, and the teacher was impressed with his enthusiasm and vocabulary. When Patrick heard about it, he sent the student some personalized autographed pictures.

Landry has seen the students’ relationship with Chan give them confidence to try new things. They really listen to him and he’s a role model for them to emulate.

Dundas PS students offer inspiring words to Patrick Chan during his visit to their school in October.

“At an assembly, Patrick drove home some important values. He encouraged the students to listen to and respect the people who care about them, such as teachers, coaches, parents and grandparents. ‘Trust their wisdom,’ he told them, ‘because they have your best interests at heart.’”

Lynn Nolan-Fox, OCT, who teaches Grade 7 English at école secondaire catholique Ste-Famille in Mississauga, got involved in the Adopt an Athlete program last year because she wanted projects for her students that they would find more relevant, within the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

“I feel grateful to have the chance to encourage others.  That’s incredibly special.”

The school has been matched with aspiring Olympian Shannon Condie, an eight-time Canadian National Champion in taekwondo who ranks second overall in Canada and ninth in the world. Condie, who is from Mississauga, is currently in her third year at York University, doing a double major in kinesiology and English.

Last year she spent two days at Ste-Famille, giving presentations to all the Grade 7 English classes.

“She explained what her sport is and what her dream is. She spoke about the demands of her training, the fact that she’s still at university, that she has to take part in international competitions, how she organizes her time and how she manages her nutrition,” says Nolan-Fox.

As part of their schoolwork, the students wrote Condie letters, designed posters and held a fundraiser. “They really enjoyed themselves because there was a real person connected to the projects they were doing in class. It wasn’t abstract. That’s what made the program a success.”

But the students’ involvement doesn’t end there, says Nolan-Fox. “Our aim is to support Shannon through to the 2012 Olympics.”

So what’s in it for the athletes? More work while on the road and another commitment in an already busy schedule?

Students of Lynn Nolan-Fox at école secondaire catholique Ste-Famille in Mississauga are supporting taekwondo champion Shannon Condie in her bid to compete in the 2012 Olympics.

Nolan-Fox thinks that Condie appreciates the support, and that her personal and professional aspirations may merge as well. “She would like to be a teacher herself,” says Nolan-Fox. “So this is also a lovely experience for her in that respect.”

For two-time Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Botterill, the answer is simple.

“It’s incredibly rewarding,” says the hockey player, who will suit up for Canada once again, in Vancouver in 2010. “I feel so grateful to be a part of the national hockey team experience and to have the chance to encourage others and to make a small difference. That’s incredibly special.

“I remember going to a soccer tournament when I was in Grade 9, and swimmer Mark Tewksbury (1992 Olympic gold medallist) came and spoke,” Botterill recalls. “That made a difference to me. So for me to be able to make that kind of difference, that’s special.”

Botterill was paired with Rolph Road School in the Toronto DSB. She was adopted by a Grade 5 class, but the whole school got involved. Botterill brought her Olympic gold medals for students to try on and says it was a lot of fun to see their eyes light up at the sight of the medals.

She hopes her visits make the Olympics a little more real for the students. But the visits help her as well. “I always feel very energized when I leave,” she says.

The athletes share a values-driven life experience based on goal setting that easily matches many curriculum expectations and school-based character development programs. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

And a little wow factor never hurts either.

If you would like your classroom or school to participate, e-mail

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