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Ice is Nice!

By David Lewis
Ice is Nice!

Glowing cheeks. Seeing breath in cold air. Shouts of glee. The sound of skates on ice. Are we in Canada? No, we’re at Almaty International School in Almaty, Kazakhstan! It can be cold and dark during the long winter in Kazakhstan, but Almaty International School decided to make it go quicker and have fun while doing it. The school is undergoing many exciting renovations, with one being the roof over the tennis courts—now called the Thunderdome! That way it can be used for both tennis and outdoor physical education (PE), even when it’s raining. However, this autumn, another idea was hatched. We ordered an ice rink! It came in a kit and so is a temporary structure. And where did we put it? Why in the Thunderdome! It was the perfect place; thanks to our new roof, no one has to continually shovel snow off the ice! Along with buying the rink, the school also ordered 200 pairs of skates (varying sizes) for our student population (pre-school to grade 12) of around 520. First, we had to deal with an uncharacteristic warm spell, when it was too mild for the water to freeze. This lasted right up to our winter break, and there were those with furrowed brows. But once school started again in January, the temperatures dropped, resulting in a fine ice surface. Then the fun began. All PE classes from Grades 1 to 12 went ice skating. Teachers signed their classes up for rink time whenever they deemed appropriate. After-school events were planned, including ice hockey, thanks to an enthusiastic Canadian colleague. Finally, our PSG (Parent Support Group) organized a Winter Festival on a Saturday with the whole event centered around the ice rink. There was music, a vendor market, food for sale, free mulled wine, a silent auction for baskets made by classes, and of course, free ice skating on our rink, capped off with fireworks! That’s the way to backhand January in the face and to beat the dark, cold, and post-Winter Break blues! So what has this article had to do with education? An ice rink at a school? Is it curriculum-based? Is it leading through innovation? Is it reflective of best practices? How about this? It’s a focal point for the bedrock of all educational practices/theories/concepts. And what would that be? The one thing that everything education has to be built on: relationships! Administration to teacher, teacher to student, teacher-to-teacher, student to student. When a teacher goes skating and falls on his or her kister, it’s quite a sight to see students skate over in order to help. It gets even better when a couple of them go down in the process and the whole bunch end up laughing so hard they can’t even attempt to get up. It certainly puts the teacher in a new light to the students—as a fellow human being with whom they can interact outside of class. Until the Spring winds bring enough warmth to melt our ice, students and teachers will continue to skate here at Almaty International School, the only school in all of the QSI organization (consisting of 36 schools in 30 countries) with an ice rink. Will it solve world problems? Probably not, but it will develop and strengthen relationships between students and teachers, which leads to excellent teaching and student learning. Studies have shown that developing positive relationships between teachers and students has a positive, significant, and long-lasting impact on the students’ lives, both academically and socially. A student works better in class if they feel that their teacher values and cares for them. Finally, our ice rink is a lot of fun! Seeing teachers, parents, and students skating together changes us from “just a school” to a community. And after all, isn’t that the goal for us all to come together to help students become better citizens for the future? With any luck, that will apply to us as well!

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