Students at Mildred Hall School on Monday learned about racism and resilience in a video conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Also involved in the conversation with students in Stewart MacNeil’s Grade 5-6 class were Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL, and veteran hockey broadcaster Ron MacLean.

The Franklin Avenue school was among dozens across Canada to join the video conference, where O’Ree spoke about his experiences with racism while playing hockey from 1957 to 1979.

Students in the Grade 5-6 class of Stewart MacNeil at Mildred Hall School connected on Monday by video conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the NHL’s first black player Willie O’Ree and veteran hockey broadcaster Ron MacLean. photo courtesy of Stewart MacNeil

It’s part of the Lessons from Willie program by Classroom Champions, a learning initiative that seeks to engage students through sports and teach effective classroom and life skills.

Student Jason Meyers was picked to stand up and ask of a question of Trudeau.

“(I asked) what does Willie O’Ree mean to you?” Meyers said.

Exciting despite tech glitch

To the disappointment of the class, the audio in their connection cut out and they couldn’t hear Trudeau’s response.

While Meyers said he felt “let down” by the technical glitch, it was still an exciting experience for him.

“Just knowing that you’re talking to the Prime Minister and to the first African-American hockey player in NHL (was good),” he said.

Before the audio problem, MacNeil said his students got a chance to say hello to Ron MacLean and chat about their hometown.

“He had nothing but good things to say about Yellowknife,” said MacNeil. “He talked about his connection with the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board. He said he had a good time with our schools and at Sir John Franklin and he watched them play hockey last year when he was here for Hockey Day in Canada.”

MacNeil added that Trudeau would later record his response to Meyer’s question and send it to the class.

Mildred Hall was chosen for the conference because it’s a participant in Classroom Champions, which pairs classroom across North America with Olympic, Paralympic, professional and NCAA athlete volunteers for year-long one-on-one mentorships to teach skills such as emotional learning, leadership, goal setting and perseverance, said spokesperson Genevieve Adams.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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