After lunch on Thursday, January 21, 2016, two busloads of students of all abilities departed from Killington Elementary School (KES). They were going to Killington Mountain to participate in the second week of the Trailblazers 2016 ski/ride program. The program has run most Thursday afternoons from mid-January thru mid-March since the early 1960’s.
Volunteer instructors from Vermont Adaptive arrived early to prepare ski/board lessons for three of the Trailblazer students who have emotional behavioral, cognitive, and/or developmental disabilities. They discuss the students prior skiing experiences, teaching strategies, and trail conditions to come up with individualized lessons for their students. The instructors greet the three students as they arrived. As they booted up, the Trailblazers voiced their readiness and excitement to get out on the snow.
Sharon Nelb, a Vermont Adaptive volunteer said; “it’s a wonderful opportunity to bring my love of skiing to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to.” She shared a story to explain why she loves teaching skiing with Vermont Adaptive students; she skied with a 4 year old student who had autism, who was also non-communicative, about a half dozen times. At the end of their last lesson together, the girl’s father came up to her with tears in his eyes. He and the girl’s brother had followed them during the lesson. He told Nelb, the girl’s brother exclaimed how proud he was of his sister skiing so well. Since then they skied together as a family. Bob Boothroy and Wendy Paterson, two other Vermont Adaptive volunteers involved with Trailblazers, said they volunteer as a way to give back to their community and share their love of skiing, What they get back from their students is priceless.
Lisa Laird a KES second grade teacher thought the impact of Vermont Adaptive with the Trailblazers was “a blessing to be given a lifetime experience-sport… It gives them exposure that they might not have otherwise, taking advantage of what’s right here in our backyard… It allows all students to be included in what is a way of life. To people who live in Killington, skiing is a way of life.” Laird said, there has been a ski program at KES, since she started working at the school in the early ‘90’s. It has always been the school's goal to be inclusive of all students.
Skiing is part of the KES school curriculum. Originally the program was run by the Killington Mountain Ski School. Now the program is run by twenty four parent and community volunteers, along with KES staff. A private pre-school housed in the school, has started including their students in a ski program at Killington Mountain on Thursday afternoons.
Tom Alcorn, the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports Southern Program Coordinator, says Vermont Adaptive has been “working with KES for 4 years.” The goal is the “integration of differing ability students into an existing ski program.” Alcorn went on to say, “It gives them a chance to recreate with teachers, counselors and support people… a chance to develop a deeper connection which facilitates a better learning environment.” He feels the “ultimate goal is to get kids out skiing with their family members. Not just school.” Vermont Adaptive volunteers also works locally with ski/ride school programs at Suicide 6 with Zack’s Place, and at Pico Mountain with Mill River Union High School and East Valley Academy.
Last winter Vermont Adaptive statewide gave over 1300 snow sport lessons. With the help of over 400 volunteers in their year round sport and recreational programs, they gave over 2500 total lessons to individuals with mental, cognitive and physical disabilities. It is their belief that “sports and recreation provide a physical, mental and social experience that is immeasurable in promoting self-confidence and independence in an individual.” More information about Vermont Adaptive can be found at vermontadaptive.org.