Raizel Ibasco looked a little shaky when she first stepped onto the ice at the Progressive Auto Sales Arena this week.
“I skated once when I was five,” said the newcomer student, who moved to Canada from the Philippines and attends St. Patrick’s High School. “We did have some skate rinks there, but never really went to them.”
Ibasco got a little more confident after a couple of laps, thanks to a helping hand from Keely Richardson, a Grade 11 at St. Pat’s and member of the school’s girls hockey team.
“It’s fun… but scary at the same time,” Ibasco said with a laugh before taking a break for some hot chocolate on the bench. “Maybe I will get better.”
She was among some 20 or so newcomer students from the school who laced up Wednesday — many for the first time ever — as part of a special on-ice session alongside players from the St. Pat’s girls hockey team.
“It just kind of naturally came together,” said Lincoln Simpson, who teaches at the school and also coaches the team. “The whole goal is — the girls hockey team are the instructors — they’re teaching the [newcomer] students how to skate.
“We want to make them feel as welcome as possible, so I thought we could sponsor a day to get them on the ice.”
Simpson worked with Mackenzie Nolan, a YMCA Settlement Worker in Schools, and Heather Hagan, an ELL teacher with the St. Clair Catholic School board, to organize the event.
The players chipped in by lending some of their used equipment, while skates were provided by the YMCA London’s Learn to Skate program.
“I was teaching a lot of these [newcomer] students, and I was just so impressed by them — they’re so polite and so hard-working,” Simpson added. “It struck me that, their parents had bet their lives on moving here,” he continued. “And I thought, what a better way to integrate them and make them feel welcome.”
The two-hour session boasted some impressive first-time skaters, a couple of tumbles, and a lot of smiles. Several members of the team — despite it being exam week — came out for the day, and took their time in teaching everything from standing, to stopping, and even holding a hockey stick.
“One of the hurdles is that a lot of these new Canadian families don’t have cars, so we had to try to figure out a way to get everybody to the rink and back before the bus,” Simpson added.
Cesar Borges, 15, said that while he likes watching hockey on TV, it’s a whole different experience being right on the ice for the first time.
“This is different,” the native of Brazil said with a smile. “But it is fun.”
Simpson said it was important for him to bring the students together to get to know each other.
“It’s so hard, because a lot of them speak amazing English, but they’re not super confident in it,” he explained. “As their teacher, I get to hear that their English is amazing, but they don’t have as much confidence to approach peer and start a conversation. So our kids miss out on that.”
“So this is a natural opportunity to make friends and have a conversation.”
The day even ended with a little scrimmage action.
“We benefit a lot from them — they’re awesome kids — and I think we’re really lucky to have them,” Simpson said. “I don’t think there’s a better way to welcome somebody to Canada than to get on the ice and play hockey.”