Special education students spend a day on the slopes | SierraSun.com

Special education students spend a day on the slopes

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun
Photo courtesy of Jen HessStudents, instructors, volunteers and teachers take an afternoon break to document the third and final ski day for the Community Based Instruction students. Shamarah Lang (kneeling), the students' teacher, said her students get excited about ski days as soon as winter begins.
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ALPINE MEADOWS ” For students in the Community Based Instruction program of the Truckee Tahoe Unified School District, opportunities to ski and snowboard are rare.

Of the 30 students involved in the special education program, which focuses on providing skill sets that can be used in the community, most never get the opportunity to ski or snowboard because of the collective effort it takes to maintain students’

safety, obtain proper equipment and prepare lessons with specialized instructors.

But last week, amid sunny skies and spring temperatures, eight of the program’s high school students stepped up to the challenge of learning to ski and ride by taking to the slopes of Alpine Meadows for the third and final time this season.

Each year, the Tahoe City Rotary Club and the unified school district bring students in the Community Based Instruction program to the Disabled Sports Far West program center, at Alpine Meadows, to learn to ski and snowboard. Split into groups based on their grade level ” elementary, middle and high school ” students visit Alpine three times each winter and are provided special equipment and 2-on-1 lessons with a certified instructor and volunteer.

“It’s part of a lifelong commitment to staying healthy and strong and being able to try new things,” said Sonya Retzlaff-Huggins, a paraeducator who helps transition severely disabled children into the special education classroom. “It’s that exciting feeling of being on the edge of learning and accomplishing something new.”

Like everyone who skis or snowboards can attest to, walking that line between can and can’t do on the slopes is especially trying. But save a few tempers, most of the students were determined to succeed on their last opportunity to ski this season.

“They get frustrated just like everyone else does learning to ski and snowboard, but it’s amazing that no matter how frustrated they get, they would just take a break, relax, and then get right back on the hill,” said Shamarah Lang, the program’s high school teacher. “They loved it.”

But the ski day was not as easy as getting the students on the slopes and into the hands of instructors, said Retzlaff-Huggins. It took a lot of work behind the scenes to make it happen.

One such behind-the-scenes player is the Tahoe City Rotary Club, which, for more than six years has made the ski days possible through a scholarship fund.

“The rotary is pleased to be able to support such a worthwhile program that’s in line with the Rotarians creed of service to the community,” said Art Penniman, a Rotarian who attended Friday’s ski outing.

In addition to the rotary club, Porter’s Ski and Sports donated equipment for this year’s ski days. And while each student is responsible for handling their own equipment throughout the day, picking up skis and snowboards from Porters becomes a special event for them, said Lang and Retzlaff-Huggins.

“The kids were excited to see their names on the gear and take it out of Porters and put it on the bus,” said Retzlaff-Huggins. “We want them to feel empowered by doing it on their own.”

Among the other community-based activities students participate in, like going to the Boys and Girls Club to play and share in the same social experiences as their peers, the ski days are an opportunity to connect with kids their age. It’s through sharing a common interest, like skiing, with many other students in their grade level that allows the students to be “more woven into the social grain,” said Penniman.

And while it is the only athletic-based activity the students take part in, it’s one that is much anticipated every year.

“The ski days are very important and are very exciting for the students,” Lang said. “It’s something they look forward to all year.”