Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado

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June 25, 2008
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Vail ski academy starts strong

EAGLE COUNTY " The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is a bit like the one-room schoolhouses from the old days.

With just three teachers and more than 30 high school students " all competitive skiers who are constantly on the road, all at different grades and taking different classes " it was a big adjustment for everyone used to traditional schools.

The Academy was created to put some rigor and consistency into the schoolwork of these competitive skiers and snowboarders, who end up missing hours of class time during the winter and can easily fall behind in their lessons.

There are still some kinks to work out, but overall, the inaugural year for the first public ski academy in the country was a success, said Geoff Grimmer, academic director for the academy.

The program will likely grow next year, with around 50 students expected to enroll. Another teacher will be hired, and the academy will offer a wider variety of classes.

"It was definitely a big change " but it allowed me to ski, and it allowed me to have a good season," said student Kaytlyn Samuelson. "But there were a lot of glitches and bumps a long the way, but we know it was the first year for it, and there's a lot of potential."

The academy is a partnership between Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and Battle Mountain High School. Students make up class time lost during the season by starting the school year earlier, ending later, having shorter class days during the competition season, traveling with laptops and taking online classes so they can keep up with their school work.

Students sign performance contracts that hold them responsible for keeping up with assignments.

It did take a while for students and teachers to adjust to the different schedule and holding lessons over computers, Grimmer said.

The most difficult thing was keeping up with school work while at competitions, Samuelson said. Receiving feedback from teachers on the road, while possible through e-mail and phone, doesn't have quite the same effect as being there in person.

"The whole workload while you're at a race and being behind in school was a problem. It was hard to catch up and have the personal time with the teachers, and that set me back through the year," Samuelson said.

The academy has hired a fourth teacher for the next school year who will instruct math classes. Students were having a hard time learning high-level math like calculus just by reading, and needed the immediate feedback from a teacher, Grimmer said.

Having another teacher will allow them to offer more classes, like advanced math and a technology elective, and give the students one more adult to lean on. The teachers in the academy, for all practical purposes, also are counselors, administrators and tech support, Grimmer said.

"They are getting some more staff, so it will be a lot more helpful. They'll be able to focus on one less subject and fewer students, who are all traveling and having the same problems," Samuelson said.

The school also will become more efficient at using the Internet to assist with lessons. They'll be using a program called "Backpack" that will allow teachers to keep track of when students turn in assignments electronically " which helps keep them accountable and on schedule.

They also have a better idea of what sorts of online classes work well, which ones don't, where the best Web sites are to help students, and how to better tailor assignments so they can be finished on the road and without a teacher.

"There are certain situations where there's no substitute for being right there in a class with another person, but there are large chunks of things, if you plan ahead, where you can really give kids an effective, two-hour block of work that will help them without a teacher there," Grimmer said.

Battle Mountain Principal Brian Hester said he was pleased with how the first year turned out.

"We started something very innovative here. We're providing these students a chance to compete at a high level with skiing and snowboarding and still giving them a rigorous education," Hester said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jun 26, 2008 06:08PM Published Jun 25, 2008 10:27PM Copyright 2008 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.