Hockey academy proposed for Skeena Middle School

Skeena Middle School could be Terrace's first hockey academy

Nearly everyone who has touched the Terrace school system has heard of at least one student who left Terrace to pursue sports at a school down south. Whether it was dance, soccer, hockey – the lower mainland provides opportunities that simply aren’t offered in this area.

But if administrators at Skeena Middle School have their way, that won’t be the case forever. As early as next year, Terrace could see its first middle school also become its first hockey academy, with students enrolled in the new program as early as next year.

That’s the goal, at least, according to Skeena principal Phillip Barron and vice principal Cory Killoran, who first entertained the idea of a sports academy here in town while they were touring middle schools with similar programs about a year and a half ago.

“We had the opportunity to talk firsthand with the principals at the schools, and the staff, and some of the students enrolled and it all seemed very positive,” said Barron, noting that they waited until this year to pursue it because they were so busy with the middle school transition last year.

“Now that we’re in our first year [of being a middle school] and we’re well on our way we certainly feel that the timing is right for something like this,” he said.

So after being in touch with Pacific Rim Hockey Academy, which runs the programs in Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, and receiving more information on how it could work here,  they received the go-ahead from the Coast Mountains School District at the Dec. 19 meeting to proceed with community consultation and planning.

“Now that we’ve got the board approval from the school district, the next step is going to be an open house in February. We’ve got information from Pacific Rim that we’re going to push out to parents, and what we’re going to look for next is an expression of interest,” said Barron.

If the support is there, which, Barron says they are “ very hopeful and cautiously optimistic” about, they’d then go about figuring out the logistics of the program.

This includes who would be the teacher in charge (at least one teacher has to be trained through the academy to administer assessments) and who would coach the students – some schools find coaches in the community, while others use teachers already in the schools who have coaching experience.

They’ll also have to figure out when the classes will take place at the Sportsplex. They are leaning towards the beginning of the day or the end of the day, so that the school only has to cover one end of the transportation costs.

Then there is the issue of who is going to pay for it. The program costs money, so parents would have to be prepared to foot the bill.

Literature provided to the school board from Pacific Rim states the program is $246 a month, that’s $1232 for one semester, September through January, or $2460 for the full year.

But Skeena says it is committed to it being an inclusive and accessible program – they don’t want to see students turned away because they can’t afford it, the same way they deal with their volleyball and basketball teams.

So they’ll be looking at options for student financing, which could include support and sponsorships from community groups and First Nations Bands, and using some of the revenue from renting out the school’s gym.

“We will make sure that those opportunities are known and available so that we can offer this to kids,” said Barron.

The program will also be inclusive in other ways.

“Girls and boys participate, and in a couple of academies across the province girls’  participation is very, very high. Kids who play ringette. It’s open to kids of all skill levels – you don’t have to be the hockey super star, you can be someone who is beginning to learn the sport,” he said.

“We love the way it fits in with the curriculum, everything that Pacific Rim has outlined meshes perfectly with the phys-ed curriculum. We’re really excited about the off-ice component as well. They spend quite a bit of time with the dry-land training, the nutrition, the healthy lifestyle – it’s not just the hockey component.”

And academics are an integral part of the program as well.

“It’s another opportunity we can offer kids to keep them and give them a strong connection to the school and their academics and community,” said vice principal Killoran. “There’s a good link between playing and academics.”

And the school is aware that this might mean an increase in enrollment numbers, as the program could attract students from surrounding areas.

“That’s not a driving force behind what we’re trying to do, but we are aware,” said Barron, noting that this might be a jump off point for other schools across the district to start similar programs. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We’re not trying to recruit.”

And Killoran points out that it has the potential to keep students in the community.  “We’ve heard about families and students who are leaving the community, specifically to go to something somewhere else,” he said. “So if we can provide that opportunity here…”

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