ALEX HAD NEVER SEEN SNOW, let alone skated on ice.
The seventh grader, whose family recently immigrated to New London from Ecuador, had never been inside a skating rink. But just four sessions into Conn’s Learn to Skate Program, Alex laces up a pair of black hockey skates—with a little help from a member of Conn’s club hockey team—and hits the ice.
Rocio Tinoco ’17, Alex’s teacher at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, watches carefully as he races confidently around Conn’s Dayton Arena, a blur of red and khaki as he glides by.
“He had never been on the ice before, and look at him,” Tinoco says. “It’s amazing to watch.”
Alex is one of nearly 30 newly arrived and dual-language middle schoolers learning to skate through Conn’s program, started by Cameron Segal ’20 as a means to introduce the sport of hockey to students who have recently immigrated to the U.S.
Segal, an American studies major who is also pursuing a secondary teaching certification, grew up playing hockey. Because of his tan complexion, Segal says he was often teased when on the ice. Last winter, when a black player for the NHL’s Washington Capitals was taunted with chants of “basketball,” Segal developed the following animating question to guide his Pathway experience: Why is hockey considered a white sport?
Segal partnered with groups across Conn’s campus to design the Learn to Skate program, thus providing access to a group of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn to skate. Watching the middle schoolers zip around the ice—some pushing orange traffic cones for balance, some holding Conn students’ hands, some learning to skate backwards—Segal can’t hide his enjoyment.
“I just love seeing them out there,” he said.
Since many of the children speak Spanish, Viri Villalva-Salas ’20 volunteered to help translate. As she chats with a few girls who are catching their breath on a bench, Anne Lamarre ’19, a member of Conn’s hockey club, skates up to ask her how to say “Ready” in Spanish.
“Listo,” Villalva-Sala says. Lamarre repeats it to the young boy she’s trying to help off the wall. He nods and takes her hand.
“It’s great to see people with all different types of backgrounds out here on the ice,” Villalva-Salas says. “I come from a community so similar to the one they are growing up in, and they are doing something that when I was a kid wasn’t an option.
“After-school activities are so important. We often think of access to education strictly in terms of academics, but these experiences help redefine what it means to have access to a college like Conn.”
Segal has already scheduled more sessions for the spring semester. That’s good news for Kelvin, a seventh grader who spent the last session this fall whizzing around the ice and—like a hockey player—strategically crashing into walls.
“I’m a pretty good ice-skater,” he says. “I already signed up for the next session. That’s my thing.”