South Portland students embrace the games of winter

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Skillin Elementary School students will be learning new ways to enjoy winter in activities and games throughout the month of January.

The school is one of 16 in the state chosen by WinterKids to compete in a series of Olympic-style Winter Games throughout the month, focusing on physical activity, nutrition, and encouraging family and friends to try new outdoor activities.

WinterKids is a Maine nonprofit established in 2000 that aims to help children be active in outdoor sports and develop healthy habits through education and fun. 

At an opening ceremony assembly and “parade of nations” Tuesday, modeled after the Olympic games, former luge Olympian Julia Clukey, a Maine native, spoke to students about her love of winter sports.

She told students being a professional sledder for 19 years was “the best job ever,” and encouraged students to try sports and activities to find what they love, as she did as a fifth-grader discovering the luge. Clukey, who is attending the winter games in South Korea, told students she would check in with them and their progress from the Olympic village in PyeongChang.

Principal Bethany Connolly said second-graders in the school were sledding this week, and she was surprised to learn it was new to about half of them.

“It was a really good opportunity for kids to experience something they hadn’t before,” she said. 

Connolly, in her first year as principal, said the parade Tuesday was also special for the school, since students enrolled at Skillin represent about 30 countries, and 20 percent of the 380 students at the school are in the English Language Learners program. 

She said Skillin is the most diverse elementary school in the city, and one of the most diverse in the state.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661ext.,106 or at

Third-grade student Zaid Mohsin waves the Iraqi flag at Skillin Elementary School Tuesday, Jan. 2, during a “parade of nations” that helped launch the school’s participation in  the WinterKids Winter Games.

Third-grade students Dabiva Mawaba, left, Tabitha Whitmore Bennet and Soureya Houssein pose with their Winter Games crowns at a ceremony at Skillins Elementary School Tuesday.