Students trade ski time for labor |

Students trade ski time for labor

Christina Proctor

Michelle Harvey skied for the first time Thursday. The seventh-grader found the lifts slightly intimidating, but her instructor was patient and understanding.

The lesson, lift ticket, and equipment rental didn’t cost Harvey any money up front. Instead, she banked on her labor. This spring, Sierra-at-Tahoe’s generosity will be repaid with more than 30 adolescent workers – Harvey and her classmates.

After the snow has melted and the season is over, the South Tahoe Middle School students will return to the resort, in smaller groups, to help with environmental restoration projects.

“In past years we’ve done fund-raising projects to teach the students community service. This year, with a two-person team class, we had too many kids,” said seventh-grade teacher Mary Palin. “We approached Sierra with the idea of a service/learning partnership.”

The benefits flow both ways, Palin said. The children are rewarded for their hard work in the classroom with a day of skiing, and the ski instructors get potential helpers.

“This is the day that Sierra gets a chance to check us out,” Palin said. “The kids already have experience teaching lessons to elementary school students. They can apply the same principals as junior ski instructors.”

Karen Houser, snow sports school manager, hopes her instructors can also learn from the students.

“Ski schools are constantly evolving over the years, and we need to keep our culture alive. This could become a great pilot program for junior instructors,” she said.

Houser is also hoping her instructors can learn the “Tribes process” of community building.

“The process was piloted in Contra Costa County 25 years ago,” Palin said. “The whole premise is group development. It’s getting people in a group to a point where they can get along and get important work accomplished. The ski instructors can use Tribes in their lessons because it creates a positive environment and sets down rules on how the group will interact.”

Palin’s co-teacher, Kathy Lease, said they’re hoping this year’s visit is the start of many.

“We’re hoping for the buy-in,” Lease explained. “This year is more getting it started. Next year we plan to start earlier and get people from Sierra to come into the classroom.”

The teachers explained that next year’s students will work on resumes and do mock interviews for the junior instructor positions.

“In eighth-grade they do the ‘Wide World of Work’ program. Anything we start in seventh-grade will only help with that,” Palin said.

Some of Palin and Lease’s students were already experienced skiers and snowboarders and members of local teams. Others, like Harvey, were trying out the slopes for the first time.

“The No. 1 thing we wanted to accomplish with this was to provide opportunities for the students,” Palin said.

“Some of these kids have never been skiing and they’ve lived here all their life,” Lease said. “It’s sad to live in Tahoe for 10 years and never have an opportunity to try out one of its biggest sports.”

Despite her nervousness at the beginning of the day, when asked if she would try skiing again Harvey smiled and said, “Maybe.”

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