Adaptive skating program transforms Lake Placid students

Coach Val and Abel C. enjoy the Olympic Center ice on Jan. 9 during the adaptive skating program. (Provided photo — Alicia Brandes)

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Central School District just wrapped up a new program run in partnership with the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which allowed students with physical and cognitive disabilities to ice skate.

“I have a smile on my face as I talk about it,” ORDA Programs Coordinator Valerie Murray said. “It was like the best part of everyone’s day.”

Murray reached out to Keith Clark, Community School coordinator for LPCS, in the late fall last year to gauge the school’s interest in the adaptive skating program. It originates from the organization Learn to Skate USA, with which ORDA is associated. Clark was interested and jumped on board right away.

Learn to Skate USA describes adaptive skating as offering specially designed classes to allow individuals with a range of physical or developmental disabilities to skate.

As the Community School coordinator, Clark’s job was to work with people in the school to make the program happen and to work with the Olympic Center staff to set schedules, secure equipment and to make sure the needs of the students would be met.

Members of the adaptive skating program at the Olympic Center are, from left, Joaquin C.R., Mrs. Kroha, Donnie P., Josh P., David H., Coach Jeff, Mikey P., Coach Val, Abel C., Nicholas O. and Coach Laura. Missing are Natalie D. and Jacob L. (Provided photo — Alicia Brandes)

“They’re were a lot of steps to getting this done,” he said.

To get the word out to teachers and families, Clark leaned heavily on Sarah Allen, LPCS director of people personnel services. Allen introduced the program to parents and explained the logistics.

Clark said there was “heavy interest” from parents. Nine students participated in the program, seven from the Lake Placid Elementary School and two from the Lake Placid Middle-High school. The program started with three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, running three days a week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as a sort of pilot program.

“Overall, it just went really well,” Clark said. “The more important part (is) the kids really enjoyed it.”

According to Clark, Allen and Murray, the program was a success. Each described separately seeing growth in the students, in both their physical achievements and personal growth.

Joaquin R.C. participates in the adaptive skating program at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid in December 2023. (Provided photo — Alicia Brandes)

“After the first couple of weeks, they started to feel good,” Murray said. “By the end, they were the bravest kids. They were so confident. It was such a transformation in such a positive way.”

After the initial three weeks’ success, they ran the program for an additional five weeks after the new year. Kids skated on a staggered schedule twice a week to ensure that every student had one-on-one instruction.

Allen explained that the adaptive program fit some students who wouldn’t always be able to fit in traditional youth sports. By working with ORDA skating coaches, students were able to take slow steps toward skating competence, many excelling.

“The coaches just did a tremendous job,” Allen said.

Learn to Skate USA has an adaptive skating curriculum in which students can progress through 12 levels of skill, each divided into five sub-levels. Level one is putting skates on off-ice and includes standing in skates, learning to fall and get back up, bending the knees, marching forward four to five steps and finally a one foot balance for two counts on each foot.

As students improve, they earn stickers for each sub-level they complete. Upon finishing an entire level, they earn a badge and a certificate of achievement.

“For the students involved, and for any student, the beauty of this program was that there was a sense of accomplishment,” Clark said.

Murray explained that some students didn’t want to get on the ice at first, but with the help of coaches and student aides, they slowly worked up to it.

“By the end, we couldn’t get them off the ice,” Murray said.

Students happily attended the program, Allen said. According to parent feedback, students were excited to go, even coming home and talking about skating. She said it was a highlight of their days whenever they could skate.

Talks are already underway to continue the program, according to Clark. He said the Olympic Center staffers were gracious with their level of commitment to the program and didn’t charge the school much. A major point of the program was to not be cost prohibitive; there was no expense for the families.

“(The students) literally have to walk 50 yards and they’re in the Olympic Center,” Clark said. “To have that resource right in our backyard is pretty powerful.”

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