Where the need is greatest: Students help Ukrainians abroad
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 Alex 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 where he was often teased by teammates and competitors because of his olive complexion. At Conn, he joined the Cities and Schools Pathway, one of 11 Integrative Pathways offered through Connections, Conn’s reinvention of the liberal arts. Modeled after the College’s innovative centers for interdisciplinary scholarship, Pathways allow students to explore issues they are passionate about by intentionally combining their academic major with interdisciplinary study and off-campus learning through study away and a relevant internship. As students follow their Pathways, they develop a question that is meaningful to them; exploring this question helps inform and guide their Connections experiences.
Through his Pathway, Segal began exploring inequities in sports. 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?
The NHL incident reminded Segal of his own experiences on the ice, he said, "but it also inspired me."
After researching the connections between athletics and academics and interning in Tinoco’s classroom at Bennie Dover, Segal partnered with groups across Conn’s campus to design the Learn to Skate program. He enlisted members of Conn’s club hockey and figure skating teams to help teach skating. He also worked with Dayton Arena staff, Education Department faculty and students, Residential Education Fellow and Education Professor Dana Wright, several REF students, Tinoco and partners from Bennie Dover to bring the program to life.
Watching the middle schoolers zip around the ice—some are pushing orange traffic cones for balance, some are holding Conn students’ hands, others are learning to spin and skate backwards—Segal can’t hide his smile.
“I just love seeing them out there, how much the kids enjoy it and how many people came to help out.”
Since many of the children speak Spanish, REF student 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,” she 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 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 next 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.”