Laurel Springs Graduates Receive U.S. Figure Skating Honors
No need to put your education on ice to be a nationally recognized athlete. Just ask four Laurel Springs graduates who have been recognized by U.S. Figure Skating as outstanding scholars and figure skaters.
U.S. Figure Skating has named Jonathan “Henry” Privett-Mendoza, Catalina Shen, Tracey Lewis and Jill Heiner as recipients of the Graduating Seniors Award. Each year, the organization honors high school students who demonstrate commitment and talent in figure skating, while pursuing their academic studies.
“While figure skating is not a traditional school sport,” U.S. Figure Skating released in a statement, “it requires the same dedication, perseverance, and time management as any varsity sport.”
The program honors students on four levels based on type and level of competitions: platinum, gold, silver and bronze levels. Nationwide, U.S. Figure Skating honored 800 student athletes this year. Laurel Springs athletes claimed four of those awards, with students receiving one platinum and three golds.
Jonathan “Henry” Privett-Mendoza – Platinum Level Graduating Seniors Award
U.S. Figure Skating’s highest award for graduating seniors went to Henry, who is a five-time national competitor in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. He has competed in championships at every level of competition and represented Team USA at the 2018 North American Series/Skate Ontario.
Henry’s skill hasn’t come without sacrifice. Like many top-tier student athletes, he has maintained a rigorous daily schedule during his years at Laurel Springs. He woke up early to complete schoolwork before hitting the ice rink. Then came training throughout the day and school work at night.
“One of the primary reasons my parents and I decided on Laurel Springs was the flexibility in course work,” Henry said. “Being able to take charge of when to do my own coursework was a big boon in opening up my schedule to more training opportunities in skating.”
But it wasn’t just the flexibility at Laurel Springs that Henry enjoyed.
“I was able to take classes I was really interested in and learned of new interests I wouldn’t have found without the different classes Laurel Springs provides,” Henry said.
Henry plans to attend college this fall, while continue his figure skating career. He has his sights set on the national team.
Catalina Shen – Gold Level Graduating Seniors Award
In 2020, Catalina received her first U.S. Figure Skating Association gold medal and became a U.S. Figure Skating Association double gold medalist.
But Catalina’s skating career didn’t begin in a typical way. She didn’t start skating until she was nine years old when a colleague of her father, and a fellow figure skater, suggested the sport.
“My parents always like to joke that they aren’t the stereotypical Asian tiger parents who forced me into the sport and were very strict on me,” Catalina said. “In reality, they just allowed me to find my way on my own.”
From there, Catalina’s skating career gained speed. She transitioned from lessons at her local rink to private lessons. Soon after, she also began taking ballet to help improve her skating.
This meant a busy schedule for Catalina. Her family commuted an hour and a half from their home to the skating rink each day. Catalina skated for two to three hours in the morning before school and did ballet three hours a day in the evening, six days a week.
“Once I started to get serious about skating and ballet, my parents saw that there was no way to find time for all three,” she said. “Skating and ballet training, along with eight hours of school, just wasn’t plausible.”
So, in 7th grade, Catalina enrolled at Laurel Springs. It wasn’t an overnight decision, she said. Her family debated and discussed the change of school for months.
“School had always been a high priority in the eyes of both myself and my parents,” Catalina said. “Academics are more highly regarded than sports. This meant that we weren’t willing to sacrifice any part of my education for skating or ballet.”
At Laurel Springs, Catalina thrived.
“My counselor, Mrs. Kissinger, has been such a great help to me,” Catalina said. “She has helped me to choose classes where I know I can handle the workload on top of my training schedule while still ensuring I would be academically competitive when applying to colleges.”
Catalina plans to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, next year and lessen her rigorous skating schedule a bit.
Tracey Lewis – Gold Level Graduating Seniors Award
Tracey Lewis started skating lessons when she was just three years old. Her inspiration: “Angelina Ballerina Learns to Ice Skate.” She still remembers her mother reading it to her.
“When I was young, my two favorite things to do were ballet and skating, Tracey said. “I knew the moment I stepped on the ice that I wanted to learn to skate.”
In 7th grade, Tracey transitioned to Laurel Springs after finding public school schedules were not flexible enough for skating practice and acting training.
“Laurel Springs School gave me the freedom to skate and live my dream of acting in New York City,” Tracey said.
Tracey is headed to the United Kingdom in the fall to attend the University of Essex, where she plans to focus on acting studies.
Jill Heiner – Gold Level Graduating Seniors Award
The final recipient of the U.S. Figure Skating Graduating Seniors Award is Jill, who has been lacing up her skates since she was six years old. Figure skating wasn’t her only interest — she enjoyed gymnastics, dance, swimming, and softball — but it was her passion.
“I remember watching Alissa Czisny at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championship,” Jill said. “I knew that I wanted to try because she looked so pretty and was flying on the ice.”
Jill enrolled in classes at Laurel Springs based on the academic reputation and flexibility of the schedule. But it was the supportive nature of the staff that Jill appreciated the most.
The teachers and counselors “really care about you and want you to do the best you can in school and skating,” she said.
Next year, Jill plans to attend Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind.
“I am so fortunate to have a great college, to back me while I try to pursue skating to the fullest and understand that I don’t want to regret not giving it my all in skating,” Jill said.