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Classroom Champions offers students mentorship

While only two months into its first year in Canada, Classroom Champions has already taken root in two Fort McMurray classes and is promising to have a significant impact on all those involved.

The brainchild of U.S. Olympic bobsledder Steve Mesler, Classroom Champions pairs Olympic role models with students as part of a mentoring program, teaching the students the importance of goal setting, perseverance and sportsmanship.

This month, Olympic mentors Hayley Wickenheiser and Sam Edney brought lessons on fair play to the students through online videos. Edney has been paired with Mary Elizabeth Moran's Grade 5 class at Ecole St. Paul and Wickenheiser is with Craig Upper's junior high option class at Dr. K. A. Clark School.

"It's really fun, because when it's Classroom Champions time, we're up and moving and it's not just sheet work. It's really fun activities," said Moran shortly before connecting with a Saskatoon class for a fair play trivia game via Skype.

"I'm really excited it's an Olympic year as well, so we'll get to see (Edney) competing and a lot of the kids are involved in dance and hockey and that type of thing, so it's neat for them to see that it doesn't end when you're out of school."

While October deals with fair play and November will explore the idea of community, Edney says he most enjoyed creating September's goal setting video.

"The importance of goal setting in my career, and my life, is vital, so if I'm able to showcase that importance and give the kids a reason to really find within themselves how they want to goal set, that's the value of it," said Edney, a medal hopeful in luge at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games and past participant in the 2006 and 2010 winter games.

"I'm super excited to be a part of the program. Not only do I feel like I've been giving lessons to the kids, but I feel like I've been learning a lot myself."

And while an athletic mentorship program may sound limiting, Upper says the lessons are easily applied to life lessons outside sports.

"It's really easy to show the connection to real life," said Upper. "You always have the kids asking why they have to learn algebra, or all these things, and it's harder to show them the real life connections, but when we're talking about goal setting, they can see right away that this is going to help me, as a student ... and throughout my life.

"Same with fair play. Not everybody's an athlete. Not everybody's in sports, but knowing the principals of fair play is going to help them down the road in the workplace, it's going to help them in post-secondary and in any sports."

Edney says similarly with goal setting, "If you want to achieve an A in your class, you can break it down into how you want that to be your goal, your final goal, but there's little steps and smaller goals that you need to achieve along the way. They're able to grasp that concept and apply it to their schooling, or if they've got a piano lesson on the side, or an extra-curricular sport.

"If they can grasp that concept of setting a goal, achieving a goal, and in some cases failing, that's something for me, I feel, is one of the biggest life lessons you can have."

Upper hopes to bring the Classroom Champions lessons into the rest of Dr. Clark by turning the class' exercise in fair play into something the entire school can benefit from.

"We worked together as a class to develop what we thought were the best definitions of fair play, making sure to include following the rules, sportsmanship, respect for the game, respect for the players, respect for all those involved," said Upper.

"Then we're taking our definitions to come up with a code of conduct to be used in our gym when we're hosting tournaments or practices. We'll have a code of conduct for players, a code of conduct for coaches and a code of conduct for spectators."

And the impact of the Olympians' clout isn't lost on the students, even if they are only in Grade 5.

"It's been good. I like working with the athlete. We got a video from him a couple days ago and I like it," said Chloe Felderhof, a student in Moran's class.

She says Edney's lesson on fair play taught her how every child has a right to play and the respect of others and she's looking forward to his next lesson in Novemeber.

Classroom Champions is in 35 classrooms across the U.S. and 25 already in Canada. The athlete videos are available for the public to view online so even classes that are not part of the program can reap the benefits of Olympic mentorship.