One school teaching life skills through hockey

Jeff Horwich Jan 1, 2013

The latest batch of student test scores in December was not terribly encouraging: U.S. students still sit well behind their global peers when it comes to math, science, and reading. Educators continue to experiment — trying to find formats that engage kids and help prep the workforce of the future.

One new private school near Minneapolis offers a particularly “Minnesota”-style approach. “Northern Educate Hockey Academy” opened in 2011. This year it has 90 students, from kindergarten through 12th grade — including 10 girls.

On the day I stopped by, older students were in a quiet room above the rink, working one-on-one with tutors. And down on the ice, younger ones were drilling with the coaching staff.

That’s where I talked to Shawn Black, the former air force pilot who moved here to launch the school. Four of his own kids are enrolled.

“Typical day is they show at 7:30 in the morning, on ice for three hours, then they go to athletic development for an hour, then they got to class for the rest of the day, till approximately four a clock, depends on the group,” he explains.

If you talk to somebody in Minnesota, they  might be like, yeah hockey, school, that makes sense. But for people from outside hockey country give some context why for some families these two things are a critical combination.

“What we’ve found is when you make the combination of their passion, which is their sport, you also apply the academics and show why academics is at least as important to them as their sport, that’s what the families want,” Black says. “They want their kids in an environment where everybody is striving for success. This doesn’t just teach hockey, it teaches life skills — hard work, effort, sacrifice by your family all those things come into being a success in life.”

The goal is not all about succeeding in hockey as a professional.

“I don’t believe any family here believes their kid is, you know, the next Gretsky,” he adds. “What all of them want is for their kids to be in a place where they’re with successful people, and a place where their kids have an opportunity to succeed in life.”

You could do this for hockey, you could do this for other sports —  — you could do it for the arts — arguably an arts magnet school does sort of the same thing. Is this sort of a frontier in education that you think is discovering something new?

“One thing we know for a fact is that eventually that hockey career will stop, however long it is, and they’ll have to go back to their community, and back to the academic piece that led ’em,” Black says.

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