jennifer phillips and her studentsJennifer Phillips, second grade teacher at Fair Oaks Elementary, knows her students have a golden opportunity this year.

While global anticipation may be building for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Phillips and her students are gaining inspiration and support from U.S. Paralympic swimmer Sophia Herzog through the Classroom Champions program.

Classroom Champions connects world-class mentors with students to help children reach their goals. With 35 athlete mentors in the U.S. and Canada, the program has served more than 25,000 young people since it began in 2009.

Phillips was first introduced to the program last school year after a visit to her classroom from Erin Hamlin, a Classroom Champions ambassador and 2014 Olympic luge bronze medalist. Phillips applied, was chosen to participate, and then paired with Herzog, a silver medalist from the 2016 Paralympic Games in the 100 meter breaststroke.

Herzog, who swims at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, keeps in touch with Phillips and her students via monthly videos, lessons, and photo sharing through a Google Plus page.

“Sophia can comment on our photos and see what we’re working on every day, and that helps my students feel like she’s a part of our classroom,” said Phillips, whose classroom is the first in Minnesota to participate in the program.

jennifer phillips and sophia herzog and studentsStudents also have opportunities to take part in two live video chats with Herzog during the school year. In the first session on Dec. 11, the second-graders shared their goals with Herzog and asked questions about her training regimen, favorite foods and holiday traditions.

Herzog began swimming at age three and made her Paralympic debut last year. She told Fair Oaks students that the Classroom Champions experience has been “life-changing” so far. Phillips noted that the growth she sees in her students is remarkable.

“Classroom Champions has created a greater sense of community in our classroom,” she added. “We’re always working as a team. My students are really taking the lessons to heart.”

Phillips’ second-graders are fostering community building outside of Fair Oaks as well. This month, they visited residents at a senior living center in Osseo. Armed with smiles and handmade cards, students spent time reading and playing games with the seniors.

With additional monthly lessons focusing on themes like character building, goal setting and diversity, Phillips said she believes Classroom Champions is helping her students learn important skills to be successful in and out of the classroom—all with the support of a world champion mentor.

Now that’s a winning combination.


TOP PHOTO: Jennifer Phillips, second grade teacher at Fair Oaks Elementary, and her students don their Classroom Champions t-shirts. 

BOTTOM PHOTO: Phillips and her second-graders participated in a live chat with Paralympic swimming star Sophia Herzog on Dec. 11.