ST PAUL, Minn. — There are still a couple more weeks before classes resume for St. Paul Public Schools, but Battle Creek Elementary students like Jade Vang returned to their building Thursday to participate in hands-on E-STEAM activities at a back-to-school event hosted by Amazon and, to the students' surprise, Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee.
"My favorite subject in school is gym," said Vang while stacking magnets onto a toy car. "I'm excited going back to school to learn new things."
E-STEAM, which stands for Environmental Stewardship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, is part of the school's newly revamped mission to prepare students "for a rapidly changing world" by instilling them "with critical thinking skills, global perspectives and respect for all." A district spokesperson said, as part of the event, Amazon donated $50,000 in E-STEAM equipment and other school supplies.
Principal Kristen Longway introduced Lee to the students and their family members.
"She is here today to give back to the community where she grew up," Longway said to the crowd. "Please join me in welcoming Olympic gold medalist, the world's first Hmong-American Olympian and Battle Creek Elementary alum, Suni Lee."
After delivering inspirational remarks, Lee interacted with the kids as they resumed their activities. Some students seized the opportunity by also getting autographs and taking photos with her.
"Fun," Vang said, "because it was the first time I met her."
Soon-to-be sixth-grader and gymnast Kayla Morris said she aspires to reach the Olympics one day or at least make it to collegiate level.
"I'm actually really nervous to meet her for some reason," Morris said while waiting in line to meet Lee. "I don't know why."
"I mean, it's probably because she's like, a big idol," her friend Leighanna Jackson added.
The experience seemed to be just as meaningful for 19-year-old Lee.
"Just to be back at my old school, seeing all of my old teachers, being in my old classrooms, like I just have such great memories here and I loved it so much," Lee told reporters following the event.
It's also back-to-school time for Lee. She's heading into her sophomore year at Auburn, where she plans to continue in college gymnastics.
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