On Anaya Kanji’s first day attending a SKATE for Girls class, she was a bit nervous. She didn’t know anyone else in the class, and despite her interest in math, she didn’t have as much experience with ice skating.
It was through the encouragement from the program teacher and the other girls in the class that she quickly turned her apprehension into determination.
“Even when the skating got hard and I was afraid, or even for math, when I got an answer wrong, I wouldn’t let that disappointment let me give up,” said Kanji, 12. “I still would never give up, no matter what happened.”
SKATE for Girls, or Solving Kinesthetically and Transforming Education for Girls, is a nonprofit started by 18-year-old Mayumi Suzue-Pan, a high school student from Wilmette who attends New Trier High School. The free program aims to increase interest in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, among middle school girls while also make figure skating more accessible.
Suzue-Pan, a competitive figure skater and math tutor, was inspired to start the organization during her sophomore year after coming across another organization, SHINE For Girls, which teaches girls math through dance. She especially wanted to focus on helping girls after her initial experiences joining her high school math team and being the only girl in her grade on the team, she said.
Some of the math concepts covered in the program include negative numbers, slope and converting fractions to percents or decimals. For instance, students might make shapes with their skates on the ice in order to visualize different math problems.
The organization is accepting applications from returning participants for its upcoming 6-week course starting in February. Suzue-Pan said that this upcoming course will be its final run for the program ahead of her high school graduation.
“Since I'm going off to college next year, and so are all of our mentors, I wanted to be able to provide this program one last time for all the kids who love it so much,” Suzue-Pan said.
In addition to the upcoming course running for six weeks, instead of its typical four weeks, Suzue-Pan said she plans to host a STEM speaker panel, a skate night and a banquet for the students.
Program participant and student Annabel Choi, 11, has been ice skating since she was 6 years old. But, before starting the program, she didn’t describe math as her strong suit. Since then, she said she has gotten more comfortable approaching math problems and even being exposed to math concepts above her grade level.
Beyond helping students improve on their math skills, another major part of the program is helping them be confident in themselves. The organization does this by its volunteers also acting as mentors for the students.
“It’s really empowering,” Choi said. “I think it’s really great that they’re younger, too, because I feel like they make some of us think that maybe we can also make a program just like them.”
Core members of the program agreed to continue the SKATE for Girls mission as they go off into college, whether it means starting a similar program on campus or hosting free tutoring sessions that builds off their program’s curriculum, Suzue-Pan said.