Giva Salutes: Figure Skating in Harlem

Figure Skating in Harlem

At Giva we search for organizations, large and small, that are doing a great job of changing the world around them for the better; and we are pleased to salute them here!

Early adolescence is a critical period for girls. In New York City, many early adolescent girls fall behind boys in academic test scores. Girls who are 10 to 14 years of age are more likely to commit suicide than boys of the same age, and they have a higher chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. One in six girls are at risk for obesity; according to the US Department of Health and Services, racial and ethnic minorities have a higher chance for being obese, and of these minorities, African-American women have the highest risk.

One approach to tackling these issues is through participation in sports, which scientific research has linked to better physical, mental, and physiological health, as well as better social interaction. New York Women's Foundation has said that the most effective programs for girls emphasize positive development, treat girls as resources, provide girls-only programming, and work with girls over a long period of time.

These qualities are present in Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH), a revolutionary non-profit organization founded in 1997 by Sharon Cohen. It promotes physical and emotional health and academic achievement. After nearly two decades, it remains the only education and ice skating program of its kind in the United States. Its mission is to use figure skating as a draw to provide young, underserved girls with education and fitness programs in a safe and supportive environment.

Its main program, ICE: I Can Excel, involves education and character development classes and skating instruction and performance. Students are given appropriate skates and team attire and attend FSH nine to fifteen hours per week throughout the school year. Four times a week, they are given group skating instruction. Every student performs in at least once special event during the year, and their accomplishments are measured using US Figure Skating Basic Skills tests. They can also work for extra opportunities, such as summer scholarships to skating camps and spots on the synchronized skating teams which take part in competitions throughout the East Coast.

But academics come first for FSH, as all students are required to maintain a B+ average in school while they are in the program. Before students can step on the ice, they must attend classes based on a Learning Edge Academic curriculum, which enhances the students' academic skills and study habits. The classes also teach positive social and emotional skills, communication and literacy skills, money management, nutrition, and skating history and theory. Events such as field trips to local museums and shows, as well as visits to various workplaces, take learning outside the classroom.

FSH works with hundreds of young girls, many of whom return year after year. 100% of the program's graduating seniors move on to college, and of those who leave the program before senior year, 95% attend college.

For those interested in helping FSH, there are a number of ways to get involved. As the cost of figure skating can sometimes prevent children from trying the sport, financial and in-kind donations are welcome. Those interested in donating are invited to ask their employers to match their gift. There is also the opportunity to sponsor one of FSH's events, such as their annual ice show or their Skating with the Stars Gala. Individuals who live in the area can volunteer as a tutor, skating instructor, or workshop host.

In the future, FSH hopes to open a "Leading Edge Skating and Education Center" in Harlem, a facility that will have everything necessary to teach the variety of classes the program offers. It also hopes to serve as an inspiration to others to create similar programs that empower underserved girls with the skills they need to achieve their dreams.