Vail Mountain School students learn new lessons during Intraterm |

Vail Mountain School students learn new lessons during Intraterm

A group of Vail Mountain School students hiked into and around the Grand Canyon as part of this year's Intraterm. Students and faculty take a week away from regular classes to teach and learn what they want.
Special to the Daily |

Most of the time you learn what you need, but sometimes you learn what you want, and that’s how Vail Mountain School’s Intraterm works.

Instead of regular classes, students in grades 9 through 12 take one-week courses about passions, theirs and their teachers’.

“This is above and beyond. Because it’s something they come up with, there’s a high level of ownership in the teachers and the students,” said Travis Aldrich, director of the Vail Mountain School Upper School.

They visited architects, business leaders, worked in housekeeping, learned wilderness first aid, wrote creatively, hiked the Grand Canyon and even played some baseball.

Some classes stayed close to home, while others went much further afield, like the kids who hiked the Grand Canyon.

There’s nothing like hiking 4,800 feet into the bottom of the canyon, then hiking that same 4,800 feet back out, and several miles in between, to promote a little togetherness.

“Freshmen and seniors bonded in ways that do not traditionally happen at most high schools. We shared laughs, good meals, camera tips and most importantly a passion for adventure,” said Liana Sideli, director of outdoor education.

Fun is good, because it’s fun, but young people want to change the world for the better, and they should. Youth Lead the Change put students in the classroom with undergraduate and graduate students from the Leadership Institute at Harvard.

It is a global youth leadership development program that teaches kids to “unlock their leadership potential by developing tangible solutions to global problems.”

It’s a weeklong course, and students create a plan to put their ideas into action. They focused on team building and communication aimed at untangling a human knot. They choose an issue and develop a plan that can be scaled to a larger audience. At the end of the week, each group presented to a group of peers, parents, faculty and the Harvard mentors.

They also learned that business contributes to the greater good. Vail Mountain School business manager and CFO Mark Fenstermacher and Head of School Michael Imperi led students on an in-depth, behind the scenes tour of local businesses, many of which were owned or managed by Vail Mountain School parents. They got access to small, entrepreneurial endeavors, to nonprofits and to locally-based multinational corporations. They also got one-on-one time with a CEOs or COOs, and made beds with the housekeeping staff of a hotel.

Baseball by the numbers

Oliver Compton teaches math, and baseball is a numbers game. He grew up on the East Coast as a Yankee fan, and played in high school, college and some adult amateur leagues.

They did have to adapt a little. Intraterm is in the winter, so they played baseball inside every day,

“I’ve always had a love for the game and a love for the history of the game that I got from his father,” Compton said.

His father wrote to some baseball legends asking about their most memorable experiences.

Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson wrote back, as did Chief Bender, Connie Mack, Tris Speaker and others.

The kids thought they wouldn’t have to do math that week, but Compton snuck in some sabermetrics.

The film “Moneyball,” based on a book by Michael Lewis, clearly drew the correlation between baseball and math and became just one of the lenses through which the baseball Intraterm explored the National Pastime.

Compton and athletics director Ted O’Reilly taught fundamentals, because baseball is based on all sorts of fundamentals. Kids also absorbed “Field of Dreams,” “Eight Men Out,” “Moneyball,” “42” and a number of excerpts from the Ken Burns documentary “Baseball.” They read the book “One Shot at Forever,” a non-fictional story of the Macon, Ill., high school baseball team and its historic run in the 1971 Illinois state baseball tournament.

A few lessons in American history parallel baseball. They learned about historic figures and moments in baseball including the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, the Negro Leagues, Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball, Babe Ruth, the rise of sabermetrics, and the steroid era.

On the final day of Intraterm, they did their “general manager for a day” project. They were given a budget and picked the best team possible using their budget, based on statistics.

Film and facts

In the psychology and film Intraterm, students spent the week learning about and discussing four different psychological conditions: schizophrenia, autism, major depression and intellectual disabilities. They then viewed and analyzed major motion pictures with characters portraying people dealing with those illnesses including: “A Beautiful Mind,” “Ordinary People,” “I Am Sam,” “Rain Man” and “Temple Grandin.”

A little reality accompanied their films. They spent a day in the Grant Street Reach Soup Kitchen and heard guest lectures from Amara Lorch and Deborah Zwick, who spoke about schizophrenia and adolescent depression.

“Students learned that people are so much more than their diagnosis and despite their struggles, are capable, resilient and interesting human beings,” said course leader and Vail Mountain School staff psychologist Kate Drescher.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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