On February 21, 2019

Teaching life skills: self-sufficiency, self-reliance, resiliency and time management

The growth of Killington Mountain School’s athletic and academic programs

By Karen D. Lorentz

Since its founding as the Killington Tutorial Program (KTP) in 1974, the Killington Mountain School (KMS) has transitioned to an approved independent academy that offers a range of sports and program options beyond Alpine ski racing.

KMS is just one of two academies to offer an array of program options and school terms and one of seven dedicated ski academies in Vermont. (Vermont leads the nation in number of academies. It also was where the first winter racing school was founded in 1970.)

Like the other earliest academies, the tutorial program was originally founded to allow students to continue their high school educations while receiving rigorous race preparation through daily mountain training. Students followed a course of study from their home schools while working under the guidance of tutors and training at Killington from January to March. They lived with host families, attended classes at the Sherburne Grange, and skied with Killington coaches daily.

Enrollment began with a dozen students but soon averaged 30 students a year with youngsters coming from throughout the East. By 1988 attendance had grown to 40 students from across the nation and an academic teaching staff of 19.

Today, KMS has an enrollment of 135 students. There are 63 full-time students in grades 7–12 (ages 12–18) of which 39 students are Alpine, 11 Freestyle, 7 Snowboard, 4 Cyclists, and 2 Freeski. Additionally, KMS has 30 students who attend one or more sessions of the BOOST program, which is a one-month development program for students ages 12 to 14, as well as 42 athletes in the winter-term program which runs from December to April. There are 28 teachers on staff and 23 coaches, according to Amy Allen, dean of academics and director of communications.

Program changes, expansions

The KTP program changed in 1980 with the (newly renamed) KMS school year extending from November to April. Ski-training sessions were switched to mornings, and dormitory-style living was arranged at the former Grindelwald Lodge. Classes moved to Pico for a few years before the school purchased the former Red Rob Inn on the Killington Road and renovated the facility to classrooms and dormitories (2005).

At that time KMS enrolled approximately 70 students.

“Today, this same campus serves over 130 students, half of whom are in Killington from August to June. The board of trustees is currently working on plans to renovate and expand the campus facility, effectively doubling the square footage to over 60,000 square feet. Plans include a new academic center, state-of-the-art gymnasium, coaches’ and teachers’ offices, locker rooms and equipment preparation facilities, a new girls’ dormitory, and renovated student life and boys dormitory spaces. Once completed, KMS will be the most modern and advanced blended academic/athletic campus in the country,” noted Head of School Tao Smith.

Allen, who is also assistant director of college counseling, notes that while academies were athletically focused originally, that changed over the years and today students attend “as much for academics as athletics. Academic success stories can be seen in the college acceptances,” she said, noting students get into top schools but just as importantly they learn life skills like independence, self sufficiency and self reliance while at KMS. “The experience here is a differentiator,” Allen said.

Part of that is the self reliance and independence gained by facing adversity and failing, she explained, referencing a “high volume of not succeeding and trying again” because a student can’t win every competition. “But they can improve and not fall apart – they pick themselves up and try again and again and again and that builds character. That’s something colleges look for,” Allen said.

Allen also noted that small classes make “individualized attention” possible and lead to mastering the material. Another benefit of being a small school is that if staff, teachers, and coaches see a student experiencing a problem, they can communicate with each other and offer appropriate support.

Students also gain time management skills from days packed with training, academics, tuning equipment, prepping for races, and traveling.

Allen accompanied a group to Austria last fall and was fascinated to see how well they handled themselves when they landed in Munich. “They knew how to handle themselves, change money, eat etcetera. They knew the drill and knew where they needed to be,” she said, impressed by how “100 percent self reliant” they were.

Training mind and body

“Student-athletes at KMS have very full days,” Smith noted. Up at roughly 6 a.m., they go through a series of warm up exercises followed by breakfast and training at the mountain from 9 a.m. to  1 p.m. Lunch at school and a gym workout from 1 to 2 p.m. are followed by classes from 2 to 6 p.m., dinner, homework, and equipment prep.

Weekend races can be local or up to several hours away.

“Race days are long and taxing. The winter really is a busy and demanding schedule, and that makes rest, nutrition and hydration critical for our athletes, along with having come into the season in good shape and having developed strength and fitness in the off season.

“While the days are long, we find that our students benefit both from regular opportunities for movement and exercise during the day and from the development of incredible time management skills that are an essential part of maintaining this schedule day in and day out.

“Multiple studies have shown that there is a direct link between a healthy body and a healthy mind, and that kids who are able to exercise and move during the school day are better able to focus, learn, and retain academic information.

“We see this with absolute regularity at KMS, and at a time where many schools are eliminating P.E. classes and recess, we feel that our student-athletes are given a leg up by virtue of their daily schedule. As for the time management skills, many young people don’t truly develop them until their college years, while our graduates are fortunate to head off to college already armed with these vital time management skills,” Smith observes.

Benefits of travel, training

“Students at KMS are differentiated from many other young people by virtue of the opportunities they are given for world travel,” Smith continued. “Our athletes travel year-round for training and competition, spending weeks a time in Europe, South America, Australia, Canada and the Continental United States. Learning to navigate the world and direct exposure to different cultures and countries gives our students a unique set of skills and perspective,” he said. Adding, “These are not vacations, however. All of our students have work to do on the hill and in the classroom while working remotely from abroad. It is not uncommon to see a KMS student who is thousands of miles from home using Google Hangouts to connect with a teacher in Vermont. KMS students are expected to manage their schoolwork while traveling and as a result develop unique communication and collaboration skills in the process.

“The training and competition requirements, while physically demanding, don’t feel like work to those who are truly committed to their craft. KMS students are on the hill 5-6 days out of each week, and training sessions can range from directed training drills or timed runs on a course. KMS students closely collaborate with the coaching staff, which includes former Olympians and Olympic coaches, NCAA Division I All-Americans and professional strength and conditioning trainers.

“The level of expertise and experience at KMS rivals that of any collegiate team and most professional ones, too. Our students are lucky to have incredibly skilled guides, who are here to push, encourage, shape and hone the kids’ competition skills to the point where any KMS student has the potential to make a national team, Olympics, Junior Worlds, or just to compete in college and beyond,” Smith said.

The KMS appeal

Asked about the appeal of KMS for student athletes, Allen said, “Beyond its strength in coaching and its 21st century academic program, KMS appeals to students due to its variety of enrollment options. Having one, four, and nine month options gives young students options to come get a taste of the Academy program for a short time, and then as they get older, allows them to refine their commitment to and passion for their sport and the academy lifestyle, at which point, they can stay longer before they ultimately decide to matriculate into the full-term program.

“In addition, we allow winter-term students to integrate into our academic program if they withdraw from their sending school, or our instructors will teach them their sending school’s curriculum. Having those two options is appealing to families and students.”

The school’s track record of many KMS graduates continuing to compete after high school may provide another enticement with the school well represented on the U.S. Alpine and National Freestyle and Freeski Teams, in Division I collegiate racing, and the Olympics.

Click HERE to view the Feb. edition of the KMS student newspaper.

Photo submitted

Members of the KMS student body, coaches and teachers pose for a full school photo outside the KMS campus on Killington Road. The school’s current  enrollment is 135.

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