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Punctuate with a Skate

Fourth-graders from Highline School District descend on Kraken home rink at Climate Pledge Arena to put exclamation point on LET’S Play program staged by Symetra, Storm and Kraken

By Bob Condor

A few hours before the Kraken were rallying to score three goals and push Thursday night’s game at Ottawa into overtime, Climate Pledge Arena featured its own on-ice excitement. Nearly 75 students from Midway Elementary School in Des Moines were lacing up skates, many for first time ever, to take to NHL ice of all starting points.

“How about [more] teachers who can skate?” asked one fourth-grade girl from Midway Elementary School in Des Moines who at first was hugging the boards on the Kraken’s home-game rink before deciding to test out the blades on her feet. “No one knows how to skate.”

Yet. The skate was an exclamation point on a five-week LET’S Play program. Partnering with the Storm, Kraken and the Highline school district, Symetra staged a full and fun schedule of special physical education classes and assemblies to provide an opportunity for Midway fourth-graders to improve their skills in, one, basketball, two, ball hockey and skating and, three, best of all, leadership, equity and teamwork skills. The latter represent the L, E and T in the LET’S Play program title.

The learn-to-skate portion was Thursday’s curriculum. Fortunately for that questioning student and 70-plus of her classmates, there were plenty of Kraken skating instructors on hand to support the fourth-graders. One nearby boy was skating full strides, then slipping and flopping out to full-on snow angel with a smile on his face and looking around to see who might be admiring his theatrics.

There were lots of girls and boys helping other kids, smiling and laughing, trying again, sometimes falling and other times making it all the way to another part of the rink boards. One boy was taking it all, seated on the ice and big smile, just outside the right faceoff circle in what is the Kraken’s defensive zone during the first and third periods of home games.

“The kids had to be a little nervous, but they did fantastic,” said Martin Hlinka, the Kraken youth hockey director and gentle holder-upper of fourth-graders. “The basics of learning how to fall and how to stand up again isn’t the easiest, but the kids’ effort was impressive.

“One of the most special moments was when one of the skaters excitedly talked about how they were seeing what the Kraken players see from the ice. It was a great day for skating in Seattle.”

During the first four weeks the students heard from Kraken radio play-by-play announcer, Everett Fitzhugh, worked with Kraken and Storm leaders on teamwork skills and participated in ball hockey skills and scrimmages coached by Kraken community staffers.

This fifth and final week brought Midway students from the Highline School District to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to skate on Seattle Kraken game ice, plus a behind-the-scenes tour of the world’s first zero-carbon arena.

The fourth graders were fully empowered to enjoy Climate Pledge Arena. They explored all levels, entering the Alaska Airlines Atrium, then descending to the main concourse. The students learned about Climate Pledge Arena’s living wall. The fourth graders were awed by the fact the living wall has 27 different plant species, across 1700 vertical square feet.

Next, the kids visited the Kraken’s locker room and looked up at the gigantic “S” brand mark on the ceiling before picking up a pair of hockey skates backstage. They learned how to lace up their skates, many for the first time in the same hallway the Kraken walk as they prepare for games.

Before they stepped onto NHL ice made from Seattle rainwater-fun fact for them-the students were greeted by Kraken Community Iceplex staff, who taught them the basics of standing up and walking around in skates. With a few new skills and a helmet for protection the Midway students took to the ice.

“It’s always great to be a part of a kid’s first time skating,” said Hlinka. “They learn a lot about the sport and even more about themselves. They learn how to take a risk and develop a new skill.”

The next stop on the tour was to visit the Seattle Storm locker room. There were lots of oohs and ahhs as the class explored the space the Storm will move into as the WNBA regular season beckons in early May.

The fantasy day finished with the kids sitting in the lower bowl to gaze up at the twin video boards that hang above each hockey goal. There were some “wows” and cheers when Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol appeared on the screens.

“Congratulations on participating in the Let’s Play program with Symetra and learning the invaluable lessons teamwork, equity and leadership,” said Hakstol. “Always be a great teammate and remember to have fun and play hard.”

The past two years were incredibly difficult for students and educators. The LET’s Play program inspired these kids to apply lessons from their favorite sports to their classrooms and home lives.

“Over the last two years, the world has often felt very small and isolating for our students,” said Deborah Ellis, principal at Midway Elementary. “Being a part of this amazing program really helped our fourth graders feel connected-not only to the Storm and Kraken, but to our greater Seattle community.”

Highline School District serves youth in Boulevard Park, Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac and White Center. Highline Schools serve nearly 18,000 youth, including 79 percent students of color, across 35 schools.

Ellis was perhaps most impressed by the leadership and teamwork lessons always putting “have fun” first: “Our students told me [Thursday] was amazing!” said Ellis Friday. “They are on cloud nine.”

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