BROOKINGS – Members of the Brookings Blizzard hockey team have been leaving the ice and heading to a local elementary school in order to volunteer in classrooms.
This is the second year that Dakota Prairie Elementary School first-grade teacher Kali Lamp has organized this special team-up with the Blizzard team.
This school year, the hockey team started its visits on Oct. 9. Players come into a handful of classes every Tuesday for an hour, with one half of the team coming from 8:30-9:30 a.m. and the other half from 9:30-10:30 a.m. with players dividing up and going into as many as 11 classrooms.
Dakota Prairie is the only school that gets this special collaboration.
In their classroom roles, the Blizzard players have worked to help teachers out and act as kinds of assistants, coming in during a normal class period.
For Lamp, the players help out during her reading block, so they help with some small group things and do reading related games and activities or even simply read with the children.
These guys have also opened the door to impromptu lessons in some cases. Lamp said that on the first day that they came to her class, players showed the students where they were from on a map pulled up on their Smartboard.
“We turned their hometowns into a social studies lesson,” Lamp said.
Third-grade teacher Ashley Clapp said the players have assisted her during her math time, when they help with math games, flash cards and other activities.
She said it’s nice to have willing helpers to use in class since it gives her more flexibility. She has used them to help give more attention to students who are struggling with the material as well as higher-level students in the class.
The players have also consistently encouraged the children to study hard and work hard.
The kids gain not only an assistant teacher of sorts, but a role model, and that’s no small thing according to April Willert, an English language education and reading specialist.
“If you’ve got kids out there who come from single homes and don’t have male role models in their lives, and you have that coming into your classrooms and giving you attention” it can have a lasting impact for the better, Willert said.
One way these players have impacted her students is by getting them interested in extracurricular activities, which is a good sign of student engagement.
In anticipation of having hockey players lend a hand in the classroom, Willert had first taught her students about hockey. None of her English learners had ever experienced hockey before, so it was quite a treat for her students when they were welcomed on a tour of the Larson Ice Center during a Blizzard practice.
Although Willert’s students commented on the smell of the locker rooms, they were thrilled to see the team practice on the ice.
“They got to go around and stood right where the players would come and the players would fist-bump them. The kids were watching and had their faces up on the glass, and they fired pucks at them, and everyone screamed. It was a lot of fun,” Willert said. “Then what they did was come right over and flick pucks up and show them little tricks they can do with their sticks. Each kid got a puck.”
Those kids loved their time with the players, and they even wrote thank-you letters to be sent to the players, she said.
They really are celebrities for the kids.
Clapp sees a similar love for the hockey guys from her students. Every Tuesday morning when her students come into class, if the hockey players aren’t there yet, it’s the only thing the kids can think about.
“I don’t hear anything all Tuesday morning but, ‘Are they coming? When are they coming? They’re coming today right?’ All morning, I have to reassure them,” she said.
Every Tuesday morning, Clapp gives her students a chance to ask the players questions.
During Halloween, the players in Clapp’s class were asked what their favorite candy bar is.
“All of a sudden, everyone loved Kit Kats because the players liked Kit Kats. They were like, ‘Yeah, well, he likes Kit Kats, so I like Kit Kats,’” Clapp said. “They really do love them. They think they’re so cool.”
Lamp said it’s the same way in her classroom. One of the players for her class has been gone a while due to back surgery and recovery. A little girl in class asked Lamp if they could make an invisible version of him because she missed him. Now, she’s switched to asking for a cardboard cutout of him to have in class.
As much as the students have eaten up their time with the Blizzard crew, it seems to be an equally rewarding experience for the players.
Lamp said the players thank her when they leave at the end of their visits, “but I’m like, we should be thanking you for doing this. You gave an hour of your day to come in and work with first graders. But they thank me for the activities and the fun, so I hope that means they like it.”
“Dakota Prairie is like a family, and I think they feel this is family,” Willert said.
All of this work in the classrooms will pay off with a final night on the ice. Everything is leading up to Dakota Prairie Night at the Larson Ice Center, where all Dakota Prairie students attend a Blizzard game for free, and the parents get in at a discount. This year’s Dakota Prairie Night is scheduled for March 29.
“It’s unfortunate that they play the (Bismarck) Bobcats, since we’re the Bobcats, too,” Lamp said.
Dakota Prairie students are working on something special for that night. A bunch of students are going to learn the National Anthem so that they can sing it for the crowd at the start of the hockey match.
Then some Dakota Prairie staff members will get to participate in a ceremonial dropping of the puck.
“This is a great opportunity that they’ve opened up to Brookings for years since they’ve been here,” Lamp said. “I asked afterwards a couple of the kids that I knew were excited about going what (they were looking forward to). They’d say specific player names.”
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]