Mather School students get quality ice time at Frog Pond

A group of students from the Mather School during a recent excursion to the Frog Pond: from left, D’Naja Alexandra of Dorchester, Sabrina Berrouet of Dorchester and Aniya of Dorchester, second from the right, with other friends.

Scores of Dorchester students are learning to ice skate for the first time thanks to a special program that brings city kids into the Boston Common’s Frog Pond for weekly lessons.

The initiative is led by the Skating Club of Boston, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Cheri Rigby, a Sudbury native who directs programs at the Frog Pond, started the program to help teach the fundamentals of skating along with valuable life lessons.

“When I read about this, it really resonated with me and I tweaked it to make it work for the Frog Pond,” she said. “It is always in back of mind that some of these kids from Boston have never gone to Frog Pond, so it is not only cool to teach skating, but also to go it.”

On Dec. 12, Skating in the Schools program began its pilot year. The program is a partnership between the Boston Public Schools, the city’s Park and Recreation Department, The Skating Club of Boston, and U.S. Figure Skating. The Friends of the Public Garden pay for transportation costs and sponsor the program, Rigby said.

Rigby said she wants to develop relationships with the schools and administrators and tie this program into the schools’ curriculums. She also wants the children to feel like this rink is theirs and feel like they are a part of something and “not just like a gym class.”

“My own fulfillment and passion for coaching is truly with the beginner skaters,” Rigby said. “I learned early on that the elite skaters have a whole different mindset and developmental skaters have a fresh perspective of the sport.”

The Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale and the Mather School in Dorchester are currently the two schools involved in the program. Rigby said she hopes she can get three or four schools to participate next year and maybe 10 schools in the next few years.

“People underestimate how long it takes to get skates on for 55 kids!” she said. “You get a sweat after the first kid.”

The Mather School, which has 620 students, sends three classrooms of about 60 children to Frog Pond every Wednesday since everyone wants to attend the program, said Assistant Principal Karyn Stranberg. Children are shown how to put on skates and receive instructions on the ice.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for the children since many are from around the world and not be able to have this opportunity,” she said. “The parents and teachers also come along on the trip, which greatly benefits the children.”

On Wednesdays with the Mather School, there are a total of seven coaches and two mentors who range from coaches who are still in college to medalists who have performed in shows, Rigby said. More students of a younger age participate in this program compared to Washington Irving and they skate during the day, she said.

“There is a good range of ages and experiences, but the really important thing is that you got to be passionate about this cause,” she said.

On Feb. 27th, two high school volunteers from the Skating Club of Boston will visit and help teach the students from the Mather School. Jennelle Herman, a senior at Watertown High School, and Layla Siraj, a senior at Brookline High School, are elite level skaters who are excited to work as mentors, Rigby said.

“This program teaches that there is more to skating than just skating,” Rigby said. “I hope the students and coaches both take away life lessons and that teaching and learning a new skill can make a difference.”

With an unexpectedly warm winter, Rigby said she gets the question all the time whether the Frog Pond can still operate. In 1996, the city installed four compressors that made Frog Pond “just like an indoor rink without a roof.”

“Unless there is a mechanical failure, we shouldn’t have a problem,” Rigby said. “Even with these unusually warm days, we usually get pretty cold nights this time of year, so anything under 45 degrees is good.”