Compassion for others comes alive on the ice


As a member of the John F. Kennedy High School Community Leadership Program, junior Jayda Levine is one of a select group of students taking part in the three-year program in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District. The leadership class focuses on creating what its name implies — young leaders in the community who work with fellow students and school programs to make a difference. Students can enroll in the class as sophomores, if they’re recommended by teachers they had during their freshman year at Kennedy.

Levine, of Merrick, has figure skated since she was 3 at the Newbridge Arena in Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore, and being on the ice has always been a passion of hers. Over the years she has traveled as far as upstate Lake Placid to compete in synchronized skating events.

Levine is in her second year of the Leadership Program at Kennedy, where students must complete a civics project. They follow their passions, bringing awareness to an issue, helping others and, in the process, honing their leadership skills.

“It is a part of the program goal to help students understand what it means for them to have a voice in school and community issues,” Brad Seidman, a social studies teacher and the instructor of the course at Kennedy, previously explained to the Herald.

Given her love for skating and the influence of her mother, a speech therapist who works with children on the autistic spectrum, Levine settled on what she thought was a perfect idea for a project. Throughout her childhood, she had been exposed to many kids with special needs whom her mother worked with. Ice-skating, she said, can be very therapeutic for them, but is often inaccessible, due to challenges ranging from cost to the difficulty of finding ice to skate on.

Levine is planning an event on March 10 called ASD on Ice, intended to give children on the autism spectrum, ranging in age from 4 to 11, the chance to skate with their friends in a safe and controlled environment. At the rink, which she has rented for a portion of the afternoon, the participants can experience the therapeutic rewards of ice-skating without the chaos, and the potential danger, of unregulated public skating sessions.

Children with special needs often need support on the ice, or can be over-stimulated by a crowd of people skating around them, as well as the noise at a public rink.

“I’ve always been passionate about those two topics,” Levine said. “Even myself, who’s not on the spectrum, when I go ice-skating in open sessions for the public, I get very overwhelmed and over-stimulated.”

Levine and a professional skating coach will be on the ice during the event, to keep the kids safe.

Levine got in touch with Eden II Programs, a nonprofit serving over 500 people with autism in New York City and Long Island, whose mission is to work with and support those on the spectrum so they can reach their full potential. Eden II has a school in East Meadow.

Levine is working on spreading the word about the event, but it is open to anyone with autism. Those who’d like to participate can show up to event next month.

As another component of her civics project, Levine is using GoFundMe to raise money for Eden II, with a goal of $5,000. The event will be free for the skaters — including the skate rentals — with a $5 suggested donation for Eden II. All that is required for participants to bring is a helmet for safety.

“I’m happy to see the people on the spectrum, who usually have a hard time doing stuff people who aren’t on the spectrum are able to do,” Levine said. “I just want to raise awareness of people who are on the spectrum.”

To learn more about the event, or to donate, visit