ISHPEMING - While most children spend their time playing basketball or floor hockey or jumping rope in a gymnasium for their hour of physical activity, the Birchview Elementary School third- and fourth-graders learn to cross country ski in the winter.
The class lasts eight weeks and the students learn the basics of how to cross country ski. The third-graders are learning the fundamentals for the first time, but the fourth-graders have already had at least one year of experience.
"You can really see the difference between the third-graders just starting out and the fourth-graders who are in this class for the second time," said Jeff Olson, physical education teacher for Ishpeming Public Schools.
Birchview Elementary School third-graders get ready to go out on a trail during cross country ski class Jan. 30 at Al Quaal in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Jeff Olson, physical education teacher at Ishpeming Public Schools, helps a student put on her skis during a third-grade cross country ski class. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Birchview Elementary School third-grader Marina Pascoe, 8, practices her cross country skiing at Al Quaal in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The cross country ski class was started many years ago by a parents' group. With Al Quaal in Birchview's backyard it made sense to have a class where students get a chance to go outside and be active in the winter.
"These kids get so cooped-up in the winter that it's good for them to get a chance to go outside and have fun," Olson said. "It's nice to have Al Quaal right out back because it's groomed by the city and they do a good job grooming it."
The first couple of days, the class stays inside learning how to put on the boots and skis and learning the basics of how to move and get up if they fall. Some of the third-graders struggle at first, but by the end of the class they improve greatly, Olson said.
"It's difficult the first time for the younger kids, especially this time because of all the fresh snow," he said. "But the fourth-graders are pretty good by their second time around."
Olson said he hopes that this class will get students interested in the sport enough that they will continue to do it and be active in the winter months. He also said the class wouldn't be a success without the help of the parents who volunteer.
"We send out a letter every year asking parents to volunteer for the hour-long class," Olson said. "It's very helpful to have the parents around to help with putting on the skis when the kids are still learning."
For those students who seem to really struggle the first time, Olson said he tries to make sure an adult sticks close to them to help when needed.
"As long as adults stay close by, the students can get it pretty quickly," he said.
During the class the students go around the School Trail at Al Quaal at least once. As the students get better at skiing they may eventually be fast enough to go around multiple times before the class ends, Olson said.
For more information on how to volunteer contact the Birchview Elementary School office at 485-6341.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.