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Students put words of encouragement to area Olympian on paper

Miguel Juarez Middle School seventh grader Ulises Romero reads aloud letter he wrote Olympic figure skater HighlPark native JasBrown Friday.

Miguel Juarez Middle School seventh grader Ulises Romero reads aloud the letter he wrote to Olympic figure skater and Highland Park native Jason Brown Friday. | Judy Fidkowski/for Sun-Times Media

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(All times listed are Chicago time; 9-hour difference)

Thursday, 9:30 a.m. ­— Men’s short program as part of team skating event (new to Olympics)

Sunday, 9 a.m. — Men’s long program as part of team skating event (new to Olympics)

Wed., Feb. 13, 12 a.m. (midnight) — Men’s short program.

Thur., Feb. 14, 9 a.m. — Men’s long program.

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Updated: March 7, 2014 12:57PM

Ulises Romero loves animals.

The 12-year-old Romero has 12 goldfish, one rabbit and a parakeet. He wants to be a veterinarian one day. Ice skating, however, is a whole different animal.

“I always wanted to skate, but I found it rather difficult,” said Romero, a seventh-grader at Juarez Middle School in Waukegan. “One of the challenges was standing up.”

But when Sandy Rosenberg, Romero’s language-arts teacher, showed him a video of Olympic ice skater and Highland Park native Jason Brown, he had second thoughts about his fledgling hobby.

“I want to go out and try again,” Romero said.

As Brown prepares to skate in the Winter Olympics this week, Romero is participating in a project along with 24 other seventh-graders in Rosenberg’s class. The project — writing letters to Brown — is designed to both educate and inspire.

Rosenberg came up with the idea after showing a video of Brown’s performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston in January.

“They were spellbound,” Rosenberg said of her class. “They didn’t know much about it. They don’t know much about the sport. I said, ‘Let’s write letters.’ ”

Rosenberg contacted her sister, Jackie Roiter, a lifelong friend of Jason Brown’s mother, Marla.

“I told the kids about my personal connection,” Rosenberg said.

When Marla Brown gave her son’s Colorado address to Rosenberg, the students began to write. On Jan. 30, a few of the students read the letters out loud in their classroom.

Alice Callejas, 12, said, “We saw a video of your performance on YouTube. You were really good and you looked really happy and proud. Just when did you start ice skating? I’m guessing by your performance, you started very young.”

Dan Balona, 12, said, “Congratulations on your performance. It was entertaining and beautiful. I don’t really ice skate, but it is a cool sport. After your performance, you really inspired me to do well in sports.”

May Vera, 12, said, “I have to say your performance was stupendous to watch. You really did an amazing job when you were doing your spins along with your tricks.”

Another student, 12-year-old Miguel Saldago, didn’t read his letter out loud. But he told the class what trait he most admires in Brown: tenacity.

“I’ve noticed that Jason Brown was (an) early person to go to the Olympics. He was supposed to go in 2018,” Saldago said. “He’s more capable of doing what he’s made to do. You should never give up. You should at least try.”

Rosenberg said the exercise is not only a vehicle for kids to exercise their writing chops, but also a valuable life experience.

“If there’s something you want, even if it’s not skating but getting A’s in class, or going to college, anything that you want, you have to work at it,” Rosenberg said. “If you work hard enough, you can get it. That is the lesson I’m trying to get across.”

She plans to mail the letters during the Olympics in hopes that Brown will read them when he returns. Students said they plan to watch Brown when he competes in Sochi, Russia, and would welcome a school visit from him one day later this year.

Romero said one day soon he will leave his goldfish and parakeet at home and lace up the skates one more time.

“I never had an interest in ice skating, but when I saw the video, it was really cool,” Romero said. “I want to go out and try again. Try and stand up.”

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