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By Dominique Gatto
It’s winter in Vermont, which is the perfect reason to get out of the classroom for a little bit of fresh air and hit the slopes.
Learning outside of the classroom presents new and exciting challenges for students with disabilities, creating a unique opportunity for them to succeed in a safe and fun environment. It gives students a chance to interact with their peers and teachers in a setting where they are able to be active and in a completely different environment than the classroom setting.
“When students are able to interact with their teachers outside of the classroom, it helps to level the playing field,” said Tom Alcorn, senior program coordinator for Vermont Adaptive, who manages all year-round programming in south-central Vermont, including those at Pico Mountain in the winter. “They see that their teachers are really good at skiing or snowboarding and it makes the teachers seem more human to the students, and not just a teacher in a classroom.”
The goal of the school groups is for students to eventually be able to ski or snowboard someday on their own.
“We have a lot of never-evers, students that have never skied before,” he said. “They keep coming back each week with their school group, and eventually they are able to ski with their parents or on their own, which is really cool.”
Throughout the winter season, Vermont Adaptive provides programs for school groups from throughout Vermont at Pico Mountain, Sugarbush Resort and Bolton Valley Ski Area as a way to support educational leaders and teachers with alternative curriculum.
The groups, which typically consist of up to 10 students between the ages of 8 and 18, spend mornings with Vermont Adaptive instructors and then break for lunch. Some groups just ski for the morning while others will head back out for the afternoon as well.
“The school group program is beneficial because it by participating, students learn a life skill, like skiing and snowboarding, which are activities they can do forever,” said Kelly Walsh, Vermont Adaptive’s program coordinator at Bolton Valley. “It’s also a way to keep students with disabilities healthy and active.”
Vermont Adaptive’s program coordinators agree that the school group program’s goal is to have fun and to grow personally, emotionally and physically while advocating for themselves in the future.
“Having school groups is beneficial because it allows students to think outside of the box and develop skills that pertain personal growth,” said Olivia Joseph, the program coordinator at Sugarbush Resort. “They are able to overcome fears, whether it be getting out on the mountain or trying a new trail, and gives them opportunity to grow in a controlled setting.”