Starting in the fall, Lake Tahoe Unified School District will offer a new, sportier program to students who are just as interested in hitting the slopes as they are in their education.
The school board approved the creation of the South Lake Tahoe Mountain Sports Academy at their Tuesday meeting. The new school will balance on-hill or on-ice training with normal high school courses and events.
"Being in high school and traveling and skiing has put a lot of pressure on me," professional skier and South Tahoe High student Maddie Bowman told the board Tuesday. "I think it would be good to guide other kids through this."
The new academy will aim to develop students' abilities in skiing, snowboarding or ice hockey as well as provide them with an education that's scheduled around their training. Students in the academy will also have the opportunity to experience normal high school events like prom and homecoming.
The academy is a partnership between Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, Tahoe Sports Entertainment, which runs the ice rink, and the school district. During the winter season, daily transportation to the mountain or to the ice rink would be provided. Academy students would take courses in classrooms near the facilities as well as at South Tahoe High School. All transportation and other costs of attending competitions would be the responsibility of the student.
South Lake Tahoe's student stars
Bowman, along with Jamie Anderson and numerous other South Lake Tahoe youths, have risen through the ranks of winter sports to compete on the national and world level. As students, they have had to work extra hard to keep up with school.
"Some of these kids get to the next level and they melt down because of the pressure," said Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort general manager John Rice.
Though she's often away from school in the winter for skiing competitions, Bowman maintains a 4.2 GPA. Teachers have helped her by assigning work ahead of time, so she can study on the road.
"It's definitely great to have school work with you," she said.
With many of today's top competitors still in their teenage years, ski and snowboard academies have sprung up around the country. Nearby academies include Squaw Valley Academy and Sugar Bowl Academy. On the East Coast, The Stratton Mountain Academy in Vermont has produced more than 30 Olympians. In Oregon, Windell's Academy offers students year-round skiing and snowboarding on Mt. Hood.
The district is hoping to attract about 30 students to the program.
'Private school education for public school cost'
The South Lake Tahoe Mountain Sports Academy is geared toward middle-class families who can't afford a typical academy price tag of $100,000 or more. Sierra and the school district will be recruiting students from the high school's existing ski team, the Sierra development and Rippers teams, the United States Amateur Snowboard Association roster, and other high schools in El Dorado County, Sacramento and the Bay Area.
The new academy will only be a day program. The district will not be responsible for housing the students. The primary benefit to the school district is the increased enrollment that an academy schedule would bring.
The main costs revolve around the coaching academy students would receive, rather than the education component. Costs for the coaching program and use of facilities is estimated between $10,000 and $15,000 depending on whether the student chooses skiing, snowboarding or ice hockey.
Long time coming
Though Judy Cefalu had to remove herself from the school board vote because of a conflict of interest, none of the other school board members opposed the academy.
Most of the board members expressed excitement about the project.
"Maybe this will become a hockey town. Maybe this will become a figure skating town," said board president Wendy David.
Board member Sue Novasel agreed that the project is a good one, but added that she'd like to see the district include Heavenly Mountain Resort.
"I would really hope we could integrate this into the entire community," Novasel said.
Board member Larry Green smiled at the thought of what the academy could bring to town.
"Maybe we'll get a few gold medalists. Who knows?" he said.
Rice said he's gotten calls from parents looking for an academy in the area. He's confident that the program will turn out graduates likely to succeed in one way or another.
"Clear the path and let these kids be successful," he said.