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Getting lax in the classroom

Lacrosse player Jack Alberts works with fifth graders on their math skills as part of the lacrosse team's new Little Laxers program.

Trent Woodcock has been revisiting fifth grade math over the past month or so, and he's come to a conclusion: The problems today's elementary schoolers have to solve seem a whole lot harder than the multiplication and division he had to do when he was their age.

Woodcock is one of about 32 members of the Rosemount High School lacrosse team involved in a new program called Little Laxers. Set up by varsity lacrosse coach Lance Kuehn, the program sends the high school athletes across the parking lot and up the hill to Rosemount Elementary School twice a week to work both one-on-one and in groups with first- and fifth graders at the school.

"The boys either play word games with them, math games with them," Kuehn said. "One of the biggest things is word recognition, word frequency."

Kuehn came up with the idea for Little Laxers last summer as a way for his players to give back to the community. He'd seen other teams adopt a highway or volunteer at food shelf. He figured working with students was a good way for his players to make a more lasting impact.

"You clean up a highway, it will become dirty a week later," Kuehn said. "If we teach these students more and more words or teach them math skills, this is something that will affect them for a lifetime."

Kuehn started the Little Laxers visits in December, because several of the players on his team were busy with football in the fall.

The program got a good reaction from the Irish players when Kuehn announced it at a team meeting last year. About 16 players make the trip to RES each Tuesday, and another group of about 16 makes the trip on Thursdays. The volunteer time they put in earns them points toward earning a letter.

Woodcock signed up to volunteer because he thought the program sounded like fun. He liked having an opportunity to interact with the younger students.

On most visits, the high school students sit in while a teacher goes through a lesson, then help students work through a problem. Afterward, they visit one on one with students who need extra help. They sit in the hallway or at desks in the school's computer lab.

In one classroom last Thursday, the lacrosse players helped students figure out how many rows of 12 they could make with 252 toy dinosaurs.

"I kind of like working one on one, because you really get to know the kids," Woodcock said. "It's definitely fun going there each week. It's something new, and it's fun to do. It's good to get away from my homework."

The program seems to be going over well with the elementary school students, too. Kuehn said they the younger students excited to see the high schoolers visit. He wants to help make school fun for the students. Kuehn started with RES because it's close to the high school, but he'd like to see the program expand to other elementary schools.

"It's not like they're doing anything different with the player than they normally do with their teacher, but they look at a high schooler, they look at an athlete and they look up to them," Kuehn said. "They don't want to miss their Little Laxer time."