- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - As her students stood in the Fulton Elementary School gym, Daniele Halfhill showed them how to bend their knees and perform a “hip hit,” as though they were pushing opponents aside in the roller derby rink.

The students tried out the move on their own. Halfhill skated back and forth across the room as she instructed them.

“Don’t forget to stay on your feet,” she told the children. “If you fall, you’re out.”

Halfhill, a fourth-grade teacher, is spending this semester weaving roller derby into her curriculum. She is teaching students the ins and outs of the sport while using it to help them build character.

“They’re happy and they’re comfortable and they’re willing to mess up and be better people,” she said. “And that’s what roller derby did for me.”

On Friday, Halfhill had students slide across the gym floor in their socks and practice a T-stop before they moved over to a wall to practice the hip hit. As the students worked, she emphasized the importance of being a respectful skater.

Afterward, students gathered in a circle to review what they had learned. Halfhill asked them to explain ways they could be more responsible and respectful skaters.

“I think it’s fun learning how to do roller derby,” fourth-grader Madison Fishnick said. “It’s like a fun game and you’re learning how to skate and all that.”

Madison said she learned about the rules of the game, as well as how to participate in roller derby respectfully. Classmate Braeden Thomas learned the importance of following directions, he said.

“I think roller-sock derby is pretty good, too,” Braeden said.

Halfhill is teaching her students the history of roller derby and what it looks like today, as well as the rules and the qualities that make good players, the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/2ktf8Ym ) reported. She’s weaving in nutrition lessons as well.

Eventually they will learn to play a game of roller derby and play against each other. They play in socks, rather than skates, which creates the effect of skating while giving students the stability they need.

Halfhill takes her class to the gym to practice every third day, but she weaves roller derby into her classroom daily.

She also aims to use roller derby to help her students learn about character - which can sometimes be a bit abstract for children, she said.

“In roller derby, they actually get to put respect and responsibility and empathy into action,” Halfhill said.

Fulton Principal Chris Nugent said Halfhill’s use of roller derby helps her build relationships with the students.

“I think whenever a teacher can bring their personality or passion into the lesson to make it more real or meaningful, I think that’s a good thing,” Nugent said.

Halfhill is in her third year as a roller derby player and is a member of the Dubuque Bomb Squad team. She started roller derby as a reward for finishing her master’s degree.

She said it was one of the best decisions she ever made.

“Roller derby is an amazing sport that can empower anybody of any size and shape,” she said.

The sport allows her students to see that they can be tough in many ways and to take pride in their accomplishments.

“They’re looking at themselves as role models and as somebody that can strive to be the best person they can be,” she said.

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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