It’s really amazing to think of the places AmeriCorps can take you. Monday morning, for example, Jerry and I were running our usual morning routine at Vista Academy, checking in with our caseload, getting coffee from the culinary students, making jokes with the teachers, and so on. By that same time Tuesday morning we were out in the middle of the Rockies, looking out at Gore Range from the peak of Vail’s ski slopes. While we were riding the gondola to the top of the mountain, I couldn’t help but turn to Jerry and ask: “How did we get here? And how did we get so lucky?”
One of my favorite things about our placement at Vista is that the administration takes the time to create some really amazing experiences for the students. Through a one-time fundraiser and coordination with a local organization called the Snowboard Outreach Society, the school was able to provide a full day of snowboard lessons for 30 students out in one of America’s premiere ski resorts, and Jerry and I were lucky enough to chaperon.
After showing up at Vista bright and early at 5:15am, we loaded into a bus and napped our way into the mountains. By the time the sun was out I was 30 minutes outside of Vail, listening to one of our students tell stories from her recent ice-fishing competition, and explaining to her how all the mountains out West are so wildly different from the Appalachians of my home. The view from the top of the slopes was incredible, and we enjoyed over 8 inches of fresh powder from a storm that had passed through the night before.
I think the biggest lesson I took away, as an aspiring educator, is that you have to be able to allow yourself to be humanized in your students’ eyes. It’s also extremely important to put in the effort to get to know your students as individuals first, so that they can be taught and served most effectively, but also because it makes our work infinitely more rewarding. I’ll admit I spent most of the day on my keister, trying to master the skillful art of standing up. But I think the students took a lot of comfort in the fact that at least one of the chaperones had never been snowboarding before, and isn’t by any means an athlete. They had a chance to teach me something, and we all grew from it. We fell a lot. But we laughed a lot more. By the end of the day I was hooked and, by the time we hopped back on the bus to head back to Vista, Jerry and I were grateful for the chance to connect with our students in a completely different way. We’re already seeing major positive changes in our relationships with certain students, and we anticipate that these relationships will become even stronger over time as we continue our work.