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Kindergartners study Black Olympians

Top athlete traits: be brave, work hard, stay healthy

Byron Center Kindergartners Evelyn Holford and Maren Brown learned some significant facts about Olympic figure skater Debi Thomas.

“She was the first brown person to figure skate in the Olympics,” Evelyn said.

“She won the bronze medal,” added Maren.

The girls and their Brown Elementary School classmates wore their own gold medals – earned for practicing good habits. They also held their own torches, made of tissue paper, for a closing ceremony that concluded several days of learning about the Olympics. Their study of speeding bobsledders, elegant skaters and talented hockey players was tied to Black History Month.

‘Representation really matters, and for our kids to see people who look different – of all different races– included in the Olympics, is awesome.’

– Kindergarten teacher Lisa Gies

Each student in teacher Lisa Gies’ class learned about winter Olympic events and chose to focus on the sport they liked best. They then learned about Black Olympians in the event they chose. Along with Thomas, they studied bobsledders Vonetta Flowers and Elana Meyers Taylor, hockey player Jordan Greenway and speed skaters Shani Davis and Erin Jackson.

“I thought it was a really great way to incorporate Black History Month into the Olympics, which they are hopefully already watching with their families,” Gies said.

The class was especially focused on Jackson, who won a gold medal in the 500-meter speed skating event Feb. 14, becoming the first Black woman to ever win a gold medal in speed skating. 

The class studied Black athletes who have competed in the winter Olympics

They also learned about Taylor, who said Flowers inspired her to become a bobsledder

“Representation really matters, and for our kids to see people who look different – of all different races– included in the Olympics, is awesome,” Gies said.

Students also painted Olympic rings, and wrote character traits of Olympians such as being brave, working hard and staying healthy.

A favorite part of the week was watching clips of each athlete, Gies said. “They were clapping and cheering right along with each video clip, and afterward had a lot of great questions about their athlete and events.”

Kindergartner Brooks Gillis said bobsledders “have to run fast and push the sleds down and jump on them.”

Maren was amazed at a key characteristic of figure skaters: “They don’t get dizzy,” she said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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