MINNEOTA - Though there was no red shag carpeting on the wall, seeing their children zip around the gym floor on traditional roller skates the past few weeks at St. Edward School probably caused a number of Minneota parents to experience a blast from the past.
St. Edward Principal Jason Myhre said it happened to him when he walked into the gym one day recently.
"It's been about 17 years since I was skating," he said. "It was my first date with my wife (Tina) and it was at The Key in Marshall. I can remember going there a handful of times. The first time I went, I was all black and blue, but it was fun."
Second-grader Kate Hennen, seventh-grader Carly VanKeulen and first-grader Faith Myhre enjoyed roller skating together during a recent physical education unit at St. Edward School.
While many in the community likely remember the once-loved and extremely popular activity, where people of all ages slipped on the four-wheeled quad skates, laced them up and had a good time, it's possible that children today have never even heard about such a thing. But during physical education classes recently at St. Edward, kindergarten through eighth-grade students have sparked a new generation of appreciation for the activity.
"We skated all the time when we were younger, at birthday parties and that kind of stuff," said Emily Hennen, who teaches phy ed at St. Edward. "We always did that, so I enjoyed it. I know a lot of kids now don't remember roller skates. They just remember inline skates."
Hennen, who grew up in South Dakota, has taught at St. Edward for eight years, four of which included a skating unit.
"We rent the skates from a company in St. Paul called Skatetime," she said. "It's usually for two weeks, but this year, it ended up being almost three weeks."
Every other year for more than eight years, the school has been alternating the roller skating unit with curriculum called Dance Commotion, which focuses on teaching students dance steps while viewing a large video screen.
"Skating is their favorite," Hennen said. "They like it. The kids have asked if we could buy them, but this way, we don't have to worry about storage."
One of the best parts, Hennen said, is watching the students progress day after day.
"When they first start, they're pretty wobbly and shaky," she said. "But by the end, even the younger ones were able to skate by themselves."
At first, Hennen said, the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students were partnered up with their "guardian angels," who are in grades 6-8.
"They come in and help me because I need more hands for this," Hennen said. "It's good for them to interact with each other."
Along with the skating, the "guardian angels" also partner with the younger students to eat lunch, read, attend Mass and do art projects together at certain times throughout the school year.
"I thought it was really fun," seventh-grader Carly VanKeulen said about the skating unit. "It's a good thing to do with friends. It was also fun helping the younger kids, but it was a little more difficult. You had to make sure they didn't fall."
Hennen pointed out that once the younger students got comfortable, she let the older students put on skates and open skate with them.
"When the younger ones would see the older ones fall, it made them realize that it wasn't so bad if they fell," she said. "Everyone does."
Hennen said that the younger kids were a little unsure the first day they walked in and didn't see their "guardian angels" in the gym anymore, but that the students quickly realized they no longer needed the assistance.
"They had fun," Hennen said. "Even when they fell, most of them would stand up and smile or laugh. They'd tell their teacher they fell down, but they'd be laughing about it."
Hennen also felt that the partnership was good for the older students, too.
"My sixth-graders were concerned with how they were doing without them," she said. "After I explained that they were doing well, I think they were a little bummed that the younger kids didn't need them anymore."
Seventh-grader Hunter Fier said he enjoyed making progress as the weeks went by.
"It was fun to learn how to skate better," Fier said. "Even if you've skated before, you still have to learn it again every time. I hit the floor a couple of times. But I got better every time I skated."
The best part, Fier said, was just "rolling around and running into things sometimes."
VanKeulen said she enjoyed skating in tandem, playing with dice, playing catch and doing the limbo while skating.
"It was a lot of fun," she said.
Having fun is certainly one of the missions of the unit, Hennen said.
"There is so much emphasis on assessing and that's a good thing, too, but sometimes you kind of lose that fun factor," she said. "We're always worried about that. I'd rather have them come in and have fun, be active and keep moving and not be so regimented all the time.
"I want to teach kids how to play and have fun without having to use a computer or handheld device or something."
While childhood obesity is an issue in the country, Hennen said, it's not much of one at St. Edward.
"We're fortunate about that," she said. "I'm not saying it isn't a problem, but in our school at least, we have a lot of kids who are very active in extracurriculars and things."
As a phy ed teacher, Hennen's philosophy is to introduce a variety of activities to the students.
"Some of the kids don't like certain activities, and I tell them that is fine," Hennen said. "But I want to expose them to it, so they can pick and choose later in life what they want to be in."
Besides fun, Hennen is definitely aware of the many health benefits of roller skating.
"It's great for their balance, hand-eye-foot coordination and for body awareness," she said. "Once they get going and are comfortable on the skates, it's also great for their cardiovascular health. Most of the older students were playing tag and playing games on the skates. They were sweating by the time they left."