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Elias pushes for hockey academy in Yukon schools

The threat of failure and the loss of recess only goes so far when educators try to motivate students.

The threat of failure and the loss of recess only goes so far when educators try to motivate students. So how about the loss of ice-time?

There’s a better way to keep students motivated—at least those who enjoy playing hockey, says Darius Elias, MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin.

Elias is hoping that some Yukon schools will join more than 120 schools across the country that have adopted the Hockey Canada Skills Academy.

The academy is a school-directed program offering students the opportunity to substitute their regular physical education classes with a hockey training camp on local rinks during the school day.

“I went down to Victoria and I looked at the program, I talked to the coaches, I talked to the kids and the parents, I read the testimonials,” said Elias, who is himself a minor hockey coach. “So, from the evidence that I’ve seen, this is a great program that’s been very successful in other jurisdictions across the country.

“I think there’s a direct relationship between academic achievement and the sport of hockey, and the skills program is something I think we can implement in our Yukon schools—the ones that have facilities.”

Although the academy is open to boys and girls of all levels of hockey skills, there is a catch. Players must maintain good grades to qualify for the program.

“This is something that can help get diplomas into more hands of those children that choose to participate in such a program,” said Elias.

Former Yukoner Steve Smith, who currently lives in Victoria, BC, has a 14-year-old son enrolled in the academy, and he sees improvement in both his son’s hockey skills and, more importantly, in the classroom.

“It’s really provided him with lots of incentive to do well in school,” said Smith. “Not everyone can get in it, based on (space). So there’s a lot of incentive for the kids to do well in school because that’s one of the criteria. Their effort has to be satisfactory if not good. If they fall below in a number of courses they can be on probation and, eventually, removed from the program.

“For our son, the difference between him in school last year and him in school this year, there’s been a really good improvement. And we attribute it to the program.”

The skills academy was developed during the 1999 Molson Open Ice Summit at a time when Hockey Canada had concerns their sport was losing ground on the national stage.

“(The intention is to) promote co-operative efforts between school boards, local hockey associations and sponsors, to better utilize ice times and school facilities and move towards development of sport schools,” says a statement on Hockey Canada’s website.

Elias introduced the topic last week in the legislative assembly. However, Education Minister Patrick Rouble was not yet ready to embrace the program.

“First off, the Department Of Education and the minister would have to assess its merits, its suitability,” said cabinet spokesperson Emily Younker, speaking for Rouble. “He’s looking into it now. It takes time to look into the program.

“As in any government program, you look at its practice across the country, examine its demand for it here, the opportunity to participate for students.”

One possible complication schools might encounter—even within Whitehorse—is getting enough participants for each age group, said Elias. If that’s the case, some schools may have to co-ordinate their efforts and share ice-time to increase numbers to the necessary levels.

“One school may have enough students at a certain age-level to participate in the program, but another might not,” said Elias. “So two schools might have to work together in order to get enough children on the ice at the same time.”

Of course, getting enough participants in communities outside Whitehorse could be more of a challenge. But Elias feels it’s worth trying to see how it plays out.

“The goal is to get a pilot program off the ground, in a rural community and one in the capital,” said Elias. “And we’ll see where it goes from here, and monitor it.”

Furthermore, the program would require commitment from more than just players.

“This is a school-directed program so it’s going to be the administrators and the principals of the schools, the superintendents and the minister,” said Elias. “I’ve been talking to parents for the last five months, trying to work towards this for a couple of years now.

“However, this is going to need motivated individuals and it’s going to need a supportive framework. These kind of programs have a fragile shelf life. If the program co-ordinator moves away, someone else has to take over.”

Elias has yet to be asked one of the most relevant questions: Who covers the cost of the program?

“I’ve checked around the country and it varies,” said Elias. “In some schools it’s a user-based program. So if I want my children in the program, I pay. In other schools they raise the money to supplement the program and, in some schools, they have provincial support, including from the city.

“In my research, in the Whitehorse minor hockey league we have approximately 350 participants and for the year it costs about $200,000 to operate the program. With a $1 billion (territorial) budget, there’s an incredible investment opportunity here.”

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