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Feb 09
Bear Creek Elementary learns about social justice with Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree

Bear Creek Willie ORee photo.jpg


A lucky class at Bear Creek Elementary was selected as one of 13 schools across the country to participate in a recent Q&A with Willie O'Ree, the first Black player in the NHL.

The opportunity was presented by the NHL in partnership with Classroom Champions, a program that connects inspirational athletes with kindergarten to Grade 8 students and provides them with leadership and social skills, and coincided with the release of Willie, an award-winning documentary about O'Ree's life battling racial adversity on and off the ice.

"It was amazing to hear Willie O'Ree tell his stories," said Grade 7 teacher Laurie Nociar. "Our students were completely engaged and were very moved by them and they wanted to know what they could start doing right now to promote social justice. Willie was very inspiring and told the kids, 'You have to get involved if you see injustice and be the change'."

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O'Ree was a Boston Bruin between 1958 and 1961, playing 45 games and scoring four goals and 10 assists in his NHL career. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, and on Feb. 18, the Bruins will retire O'Ree's jersey number, No. 22, in his honour.

The panel also included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian professional hockey player Sarah Nurse, Willie producer Bryant McBride, Hockey4Youth founder Moe Hasham, young Jamaican hockey player Brittany Morrison and CBC sportscaster Ron MacLean. Nociar said initiatives like this get students more engaged and make school fun for everyone.

"Our students were very excited to meet the panelists," she said. "They looked up at the screen, and there was Justin Trudeau – he said, 'Hey kids!', and he could see all the classes on the screen waving back to him.

"These are the kinds of opportunities that really can make a difference in a child's education. When a world leader and a Hall of Fame legend tell children that they can make a positive difference in their community, they believe it will happen."

Nociar noted Bear Creek was selected for its long-standing participation with NHL Classroom Champions over the last eight years.

"We've all been involved with the program for a long time, and when they asked if we'd like to represent Classroom Champions and British Columbia, of course we said yes!" she said. "We wanted to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity.

"It felt nice because this is getting to be a big program. We liked that they trusted us to represent the program on the panel and we took that responsibility very seriously."

As a result of being selected, Nociar's class got to watch the Willie documentary and access free social justice educational resources that complement the film, highlighting nine themes: equality vs. equity (fairness), progress, coping and resiliency, racial socialization, history, representation, barriers, language (power of words) and allies. The resources are free for all schools to use.

The Willie documentary is available on Amazon Prime, Crave, iTunes and Peacock, with additional airings on TSN (including on demand). For more information on Classroom Champions, visit classroomchampions.org

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