Sunday, January 16, 2011

No Skier Left Behind



If you are a skier you should read Bill Pennington’s article in the NY Times, Where All School Days Are Snow Days. If you are an educator your should read Bill Pennington’s article in the NY Times, Where All School Days Are Snow Days. If you are an educator who is an avid skier- pack your bags and head out to Miniturn, Colorado and hope there is a job opening at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.

In 2007 the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy opened its doors to students. To date it is the only public winter sports school in the United States. The school mirrors sport specific schools made popular at first in Europe and later in this country by Tennis Academies and most recently the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is held to the same academic standards as all Colorado public schools. However, the school day is radically different. Students spend the morning on the slopes training in one of four disciplines. Coaching is provided through a partnership with the nonprofit Ski and Snowboard Club of Vail. After practice students head to school. From 1 to 5pm, students are in the classroom.

The Academy has benefited from its existence in a digital world. Pennington shared that, “Online instruction tools like Blackboard and other programs make it easier for traveling students and teachers to communicate as if they were in the same classroom. Each academy student has a laptop, the classrooms are equipped with exceptionally fast wireless networks and computers, and Grimmer has made sure every faculty member has an iPad.” Geoff Grimmer, the academic director at the academy, admitted that the academy could not exist without the development of an interactive web. Pennington also shares that students do quite well. Twins interviewed for the piece were going to Ivy League Schools. Students score above state and national averages on standardized exams. More than anything, students are able to pursue a passion and not sacrifice their education.

There is an ideal embedded into the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy that can be applied to all schools. Students have the chance to follow their passions and do so in a supportive and rigorous academic environment. Personal interests are not sacrificed a the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. The delivery of curriculum works in conjunction with the nurturing of talent. Instead of skiers and snowboarders, why can’t potential journalists, lawyers, web designers and mechanics spend part of their day working with professionals. The need for students to apprentice both in and out of the classroom is critical. Through authentic experiences students can engage higher order thinking skills and develop a foundation of experiences that will guide them through school and the professional world.

Schools need to foster passion or interest based classes. What interests students matter and must be accounted for when crafting experiences for kids. This is not a radical idea, but how many of our classes account for what learners are passionate about. Just scroll through course listing in a public high school. Course descriptions read like a roll call of content. Devoid from descriptions and practical applications are broad themes and open-ended essential questions that provide space for further self-guided exploration. School is supposed to be a place where interests and passions can be stimulated and nurtured. In high school, refined interests are often located in “elective” classes. Students should not have to take an elective to pursue personal interests.

It is understood that the school located in the shadows of Vail is unique. I might be stretching the merits of the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy to prove a point that our classes need to account for what interests our students. So be it. Without taking into consideration the interests of each individual learner, schools will fail to empower students. Students will value the learning conducted outside of school more so than what transpires inside a classroom. While it would be nice to hit the slopes for a few morning runs before class, most of us will have to settle for findings ways to fit some of the magic of the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy into our schools.