- Sponsorship -

Fourth-grade hockey fan gets a magical hour on ice: ‘I made the shot!’

Principal arranges rink experience for special-needs student

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Kenowa Hills ー Raised as a Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins hockey fan, Jackson Solow lights up while skating on an ice rink wearing his favorite hockey jersey.  

“I made the shot!” Jackson cheered while his parents, Angel and Alex Solow, and his teacher from Central Elementary, Marsha Martinez, watched from the bench. 

“Yay! Good job, Jackson,” replied Jackson’s people, who clapped every time he made a goal, even when he was only a foot away from the net. 

Jackson Solow gives a high five to ‘Mr. B,’ assistant principal Chris Bernard

A fourth-grader with autism spectrum disorder, Jackson connected with Central Assistant Principal Chris Bernard, or ‘Mr. B’ as students call him, over their shared love for hockey.

“Ever since I first noticed him rocking a Red Wings jersey in class, I knew how to connect and communicate with Jackson,” Bernard said. “His face lit up when I told him I used to play and coach hockey.”

After months of planning, Jackson and Mr. B got to spend an hour after school passing a puck at the Walker Ice & Fitness Center. 

A former hockey player at East Kentwood, Bernard came up with the idea to take Jackson to skate at the ice rink, which is managed by his old friend and former goaltender for the Griffins, Mike Fountain. In late February, Bernard asked Jackson if he would want to go skating with him, but then COVID-19 closed schools and paused their plans. 

Bernard and Fountain were able to make time for Jackson to skate less than 24 hours before they closed again on Nov. 18, following the state’s latest emergency order closing many facilities including ice rinks. 

Alex Solow adjusts his son Jackson’s helmet

Suiting Up for Ice Action 

Dressed in a Red Wings shirt and red, logo-stamped pants, Jackson arrived at the rink and his parents helped him dress in his gear. When Bernard walked in the doors with his skates and hockey stick in hand, Jackson hopped off the bench and his body language radiated excitement without him saying a word. 

After Bernard laced up his skates, he and Jackson were off on the freshly cleaned ice. Fountain even gifted Jackson a kids’ hockey stick to use and take home with him. 

“There’s something magical about having the ice all to yourself, like a basketball player getting to shoot hoops on an empty court,” Bernard said. 

A bit hesitant at first, Jackson quickly became energetic. Bernard guided him around the ice and the two practiced passing and scoring goals. Jackson’s laughter could be heard throughout the whole rink.

‘Mr. B’ and Jackson skate together at the Walker Ice & Fitness Center

According to Bernard, Jackson was more talkative on the ice than he ever was at school.

“He’s in his element out here and it’s amazing to see,” Bernard said. “He normally talks and laughs with me but not like this. He was laughing like crazy and chatting up a storm.” 

Angel Solow and Martinez laughed alongside Jackson about how much of a character he was.

“He loves being the center of attention,” Solow said. “At home, he’ll pretend to be a game show host and bow when we clap for him.”

Martinez admired Jackson’s sense of humor at school with everyone he meets. 

“He’s so much fun in the classroom,” Martinez said. “He’s always the first one ready to go and keeps us all on our toes.”

Jackson Solow practices taking shots on goal

Thriving in Special Programs 

According to Jackson’s parents, he has thrived in Martinez’s class and with the special education program at Kenowa Hills. 

“Jackson was non-verbal when he started at Kenowa Hills and now you can’t get him to stop talking,” Solow explained. 

Outside of school, Jackson plays with the West Michigan Special Hockey Association team, a nonprofit organization offering an amateur ice hockey program for children and young adults with any developmental disability.  

“Finding the special hockey team was such a blessing,” Solow said. “He was a little nervous the first day of practice but by the end, he didn’t want to take off his skates.”

At the end of their time on the ice, Jackson turned towards his family and took several bows; all were met with applause. When asked to smile for a picture with his family, teacher and Mr. B, Jackson, yelled out, “Cheese!”

“We do so much celebrating of students inside the classroom, but they’re so much more outside of these four walls,” Bernard said as he unlaced his skates on the bench. 

After stepping off the ice onto the rubber rink floor, Jackson wobbled back into the lobby, still wearing his skates, and whispered under his helmet, “That was so fun.”

- Sponsorship -
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia and Kenowa Hills and is a roving reporter for Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio or email Alexis.


Young constitutional scholars view current events, politics through historical lens

East Grand Rapids and East Kentwood high school We the People team members have qualified for the national competition, becoming well versed in civics and critical thinking along the way...

Rain gutter regatta showcases buoyancy, engineering skills

An annual boat race has become a highlight of sixth-grade science class. At stake: bragging rights and 'a goofy trophy'...

The Hood family: a school & community leadership dynasty

Five generations have lived within a five- to six-mile radius dating back to a government work program in the 1930s...

The sky’s the limit (or is it?) for this accomplished model builder

Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This series features students with exceptional and unusual gifts...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Schools, organizations step up to feed students, families

Area schools continue to provide free grab and go meals at regular distribution events and community partners are helping to fill in the gaps to make sure everyone is fed during a very challenging time...

Making merry music, from a safe distance

The holidays may look different this year, but Kenowa Hills students are still finding ways to lift spirits by sharing their musical talents...

Video series aims to fill teachers’ cups with appreciation

Kenowa Hills schools are sharing video messages of gratitude for teachers, just in time for a hope-filled holiday season...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU