Oak Creek Michael O'Brien isn't very good on the ice, but the Soroco Middle School seventh-grader said he's adamant about improving his skating.
Michael, 12, recently moved to Oak Creek from Kansas, where a typical day in physical education didn't include a hockey stick or ice skates.
"I fall a lot," he said Friday while wobbling on a pair of ice skates. "I'm not that good on ice. I'm used to rollerblading and playing hockey, not ice hockey."
Oak Creek's improved ice rink, located near Soroco high and middle schools, has given physical education teacher Gary Heide a chance to take his P.E. classes to the rink, where students get to try out their "ice legs."
"My focus is just to get the kids on the ice," Heide said. "Some play hockey on one end, and I let them free skate on the other end if they want to."
Heide said he planned to take each of his five classes -- three high school and two middle school classes -- to the rink six times during winter.
"The kids really like it because it gets them out of the building," he said.
Heide said that over the years he has collected pairs of skates, including donated ones, so students don't have to provide their own.
"It gets pretty tricky getting skates for everyone sometimes because they're all pretty much the same size and wear the same size skate," he said.
When situations such as that arise, Heide offers his own skates to students or has them take turns using the skates.
"We've never had to eliminate anyone from skating," he said.
Heide said he thinks it's important for students to get outside more often during the day and to try sports they haven't been exposed to.
"For a lot of my students, ice skating or being on ice is new," he said. "Some have never been on ice skates. They'll tell me they don't know how to skate, and I say to them, 'Guess what? That's why we're here.'"
He grades students based on how much they participate, not on their skills.
"If you stand against the wall, you're going to get a 'D,'" he said. "If you get out there and show me you're trying, you're going to get an 'A.'
"It's never hard to get the middle school students motivated. They like getting out here."
Michael's classmates, Ashleigh Poteet, 12, and Katie Davis, 12, said they thought it was unusual to live someplace where ice skating is just another part of the curriculum.
"This is new to us," Katie said. "It's neat that we get to do stuff outside."
Ashleigh, who lives in Oak Creek, said she ice skates about three times a week.
When classes aren't outside on the ice, students play badminton or run laps -- activities none seem to prefer, Ashleigh said.
Avid hockey player Ryan Zywicki, 13, said he likes getting on the ice during school.
"Ever since I started playing hockey in kindergarten, I liked it," he said as he lunged for a stray puck. "I have fun doing this."
Ice skating during school is a good chance for experienced players to get more practice and for novice skaters to get comfortable with the concept, Heide said.
"I tried organizing the kids before, but I realized I should just be quiet and let them do their thing and not say anything," he said.
Heide said this has been the best year of ice skating because of the ice rink's new roof.
"If we didn't have this roof, we probably wouldn't be able to use the bottom third of the rink because the ice would be soft," he said. "You used to only be able to skate on the really cold days."
Heide said he aims to get his students outside as much as possible during the winter and has a cross-country ski trip planned in Steamboat Springs for mid-February.
"The first-year we did cross country, I made the kids get out on the football field and work," he said. "It will be nice to go to Steamboat and have trails to ski on so the kids will get a good taste of what cross-country skiing is."