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Twenty-three years later, the program teaches hundreds of girls ages 6 to 18 the foundational elements and artistic discipline of figure skating, and encourages them in the classroom as well. “We wanted figure skating to be what brought our girls in and what helped them grow and taught them resilience and perseverance and grace — all of these wonderful things,” Cohen says. “But ultimately showing up their educational skills was what we wanted to make our focus, so that our girls were going to the best schools, the best colleges, and [could] enter any field they wanted.”
The girls usually have two afternoons that revolve around skating and two around academics. In addition to basic math, reading, and writing skills, the program offers classes in financial literacy, communications, STEM, and leadership development. The schedule and offerings have changed some due to COVID-19, Cohen says, with all of the academics moving online. There’s virtual tutoring for girls who are below a B average, and a heavy emphasis on social and emotional support. One of the biggest changes is that a lot less time is spent on the ice.
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The pandemic hit right before the program’s big annual performance, and the adjustment has been difficult for some of the girls, including 17-year-old Kayla Jones. “It was heartbreaking to not be able to go on the ice as much as I used to,” she says. Jones started figure skating when she was around seven and joined FSH after her mom discovered it almost eight years ago. The rink, Jones says, is where she feels most at peace. “It’s a place that keeps me calm, it keeps me sane,” she explains. “There could be a war going on outside, and as long as I’m on the ice, nothing can affect or change my mood.” Jones grew up watching figure skating competitions and had dreams of becoming an Olympian. As she got older, though, she realized that being a professional comes with more stress and drama than she wanted. Now she prefers to keep skating light and fun to maintain that peace.
Figure skating wasn’t on Jacqueline Ayala’s radar the same way it was on Jones’s. When she joined FSH in 2015 it was only the second time she’d ever been on the ice. “I didn’t know anyone around me who knew how to figure skate, so I wasn’t really tied to figure skating or [had] even watched it on TV,” Ayala says. After she entered the program, she discovered other girls and coaches who looked like her and practiced the sport. Ayala stopped skating for five months in March — the longest break she’s taken in the five years since she started. The part she’s missed the most is also her favorite aspect of the program: Being able to skate with friends who come from a similar background. “Figure skating is very white-washed and people don’t see people of color on the ice,” she says, “so it’s nice to know that I’m able to break barriers alongside other girls.”
On a weekday the ice skating rink in East Harlem, filled with Black and brown bodies (safely wearing masks), looks a lot different than the figure skating landscape as a whole. Jones says when they go to competitions, they’re always the only team made up entirely of girls of color, which can come with added pressure to do well. “It feels like you have something to prove,” she says.
Source by www.teenvogue.com