Olympic athletes mentor Ferguson Elementary class

November 13, 2016 GMT

Many children have heroes they look up to. Not everyone gets to meet those heroes.

On Oct. 31, Dena Morosin’s fifth-grade class at Ferguson Elementary did. The class held its first video chat with two Olympic ice dancers, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. This school year the gold medalists are mentoring Morosin’s students through the Classroom Champions program.

“It’s so inspiring for us to be able to work with awesome classrooms like you guys,” White told a room full of excited 10-year-olds. “We’re so proud to speak with you in person, but also for all the work you’ve put in so far.”

“So nice to meet you guys in person!” Davis said.

“You too!” The students called back. “Nice to meet you.”

This first video chat builds on the Classroom Champions curriculum, which emphasizes life lessons throughout the year. The program works to build grit, perseverance and resilience through the examples Olympic and Paralympic athlete mentors from around the world provide.

Classroom Champions

Morosin’s class is one of 175 in the U.S. and Canada participating this school year.

Morosin applied to join the program and was notified last summer her class would be participating. She trained over the summer and continues to work with Classroom Champions to keep up on the latest videos and lessons for her class.

The program reports students who participate in Classroom Champions improve their attendance rates and improve skills in social and emotional learning. Teachers learn to engage their students and athlete mentors learn leadership skills.

Each month the program tackles a different lesson. In September it was goal setting and October was fair play. November and December focus on community.

“As athletes you learn the hard way,” White said. “But it’s the same with fair play, it’s the same with community.”

Morosin said she already sees the students buying into the program, especially with goal setting.

“We have spent so much time on goal setting and talking about how to set goals,” she said. “That’s a big part of it.”

Students set goals for the year — helping others, learning multiplication tables, mastering the trumpet — and they set weekly goals.

“Every Monday I give them a smart goal sheet,” Morosin said. “They are supposed to fill it out every Monday and leave it on their desk so they’re focused on it all week long.”

Athlete mentors

Morosin’s class mentors, Olympic ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis, have skated together for about 17 years.

In that time they earned silver and gold Olympic medals in 2010 and 2014, and won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships six times. They also won the World Championships in 2011 and 2013.

During the video chat, one student asked Davis and White what their biggest fear was going into the 2014 Olympics.

After such a long winning streak, Davis said it was the fear of failing in the once-in-four-year chance at Olympic gold.

“You only get that one shot before you have to wait four more years,” she said. “The scary thing is having that one shot, and being so ready and doing so well, but then messing it up. It could be something big. It could be something small. In our sport, just a couple little tiny points make a huge difference in the ultimate score.”

Their hard work paid off, and they set a record score in 2014, earning the gold.

Now, between Olympics, the pair are skating professionally while pursuing degrees at the University of Michigan. Davis is studying cultural anthropology and White is studying political science. Even with all their accomplishments in ice dancing, they still have a goal of achieving higher education.

“Right now our goals are to graduate from college,” White said. “We’re still very busy so it’s a slow process. But like you guys, we really love learning and we love education.”

Olympic lessons

In their first video chat with students, the Olympians had sage advice for working hard toward a goal. It doesn’t happen all at once, they said, and it takes time and effort to reach a goal.

“That’s why you practice. You don’t just try something once and get it right the first time,” White said. “Sometimes you have all the best intentions and you go for it 100 percent and it doesn’t work out. But that’s OK. Because you learn what you can do better.”

“Along the way we didn’t set records every time,” Davis said. “We had a lot of competitions that went great, a lot of competitions not so great. But we feel as though the competitions where sometime we fell, competitions where things didn’t go perfectly, those were the times when we really felt like we learned something that helped us be the best we could be.”

When one student asked if training for the Olympics felt like “torture,” White said no, but it did take a lot of work.

“You have to push yourself past what’s comfortable if you really want to improve. I think that’s the case in a lot of things in life,” he said. “If you want to be the best you have to do things that seem a little bit unreasonable – while maintaining your health and sanity – but you do have to push it. … You have to be 100 percent committed and you have to love what you’re doing to get to that point.”