Hockey in the Schools A Success

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Heather Henderson, a Prince George elementary school teacher, says that in the beginning her grade 3 girls were resistant to the idea of playing the national sport. But Henderson, a lifelong fan of the game, reminded them that Canadian women rule the rink and take Olympic gold.

"Initially it was intimidating for them - there's still the perception that it's not a sport for women - but once they became proficient they were completely into it. I was really impressed with the enthusiasm of the girls," Henderson says, explaining why she began recommending it to her colleagues. "Now they're in the courtyard joining in with the boys."

The Hockey in Our Schools program, supported by $27,000 from 2010 Legacies Now, is now in its third and final year. But Henderson expects that it will continue indefinitely, given that all the resources, including the equipment, are in place in the participating schools.

It was designed by educators to give any primary school teacher (including the hockey novices) the format for teaching hockey in a gym setting, using plastic sticks and balls. Henderson says it is one of the best programs of its kind that she has ever used.

"It's really great - a kind of cookie-cutter that anyone can use," Henderson says, adding that it is well-planned because it was designed by educators. "I judge it by the kids response and they have been so positive."

She found it fit her needs as a teacher in a low-income neighbourhood, because it requires no costly rink-time or equipment. The funding covers the cost of supplies. And it gives teachers another option for delivering the daily 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise the curriculum requires.

The program emphasizes skills rather than competition, so students learn passing, shooting, stick-handling, defence, offence, and the goalie's stance. And they get a good understanding of the game.

While most people assume that hockey is still Canada's dominant sport, Henderson says that as a teacher in a school with a large multicultural population, she has seen soccer becoming the popular activity with kids of both sexes. Especially in communities where the cost of playing hockey - as much as $500 just to sign up - is prohibitive. Or where there is a shortage of indoor ice rinks. Even in B.C.'s interior, milder weather means outdoor ice isn't as reliable as in some other provinces.

"Even in Prince George, we have a freeze-and-saw cycle that makes maintain an outdoor rink a lot work."

But she has been delighted to see that Hockey in Our Schools has proved to be a springboard into organized hockey leagues for a some of her students, including a few of the girls whose initial reaction was, "EEEuuuuwww, do we have to play hockey?"

For the rest, she thinks hockey is one of the most practical sports they can learn for fitness, and for life in Canada.

"It's really good exercise - they keep moving the whole time," she says, and then chuckles. "And they will always be able to talk about what is happening in the play-offs."

The BC Sport Participation Program aims to increase sport participation in community and school-based sports, while also increasing participation by seniors and people with disabilities. The program helps provincial and multi-sport organizations extend their community reach and improve the quality of sport delivery. The program is funded by the Province of British Columbia and Sport Canada, and administered by 2010 Legacies Now.