With 2018 Paralympic champion Andrew Kurka in their corner, students in Jennifer Phillips’ second grade class at Fair Oaks Elementary are learning what it means to persevere and achieve their goals.
For the second consecutive year, Phillips’ scholars are the only students in Minnesota to benefit from a partnership with Classroom Champions. Now in its 10th year, Classroom Champions connects world-class mentors with students in the United States and Canada to help children reach their goals. More than 25,000 students have benefited from the program in the past decade.
Kurka, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska, was a six-time Alaskan state wrestling champion before suffering a spinal cord injury at age 13. After two years of recovery, he began para-alpine skiing and debuted on the U.S. national team in 2010. Kurka competed at the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014 and 2018; in PyeongChang, South Korea last year, he won the gold medal in the men’s Downhill and the silver medal in the men’s Super-G.
“Andrew has so much positive energy that my students feed off from his monthly videos,” Phillips said. “He has impacted our classroom in a positive way and has taught my students many valuable life lessons. Andrew is the definition of perseverance and I often hear my students refer to him and his journey.”
Since their first meeting last fall, Kurka has worked with Phillips’ students to set goals, engage in learning about diversity, and help create a greater sense of community in the classroom. He checks in with the second-graders via monthly videos, a shared Google Drive, and by participating in two live video chats throughout the year where students update him on their progress in the classroom, ask questions and learn about his travels.
“We have recently been learning about what it means to have perseverance, how to take feedback and learn from it, and how to be a leader in and out of the classroom,” Phillips said. “The Olympic mentors [Kurka this year and Paralympic swimmer Sophia Herzog last year] have taught my students to dream big. With hard work and perseverance, anything is possible.”
Kurka, who is also a five-time world champion and one of the sport’s biggest stars, has been an important part of the students’ journey this year, Phillips noted.
“The skills students are gaining are life skills that they will take with them as they grow and move on,” she added. “Classroom Champions is setting the foundation and giving my students the tools to be successful members of our society.”