Monday, June 24

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Crestone Charter School News: Winter programming at CCS

By Thomas Cleary, Crestone Charter School. 

Forty-nine students, 12 mentors, six vans and buses, skis, boards, boots and duffles for all, a simultaneous non-Monarch program, and a blizzard on top of it all! 

That is how the Winter Friday Programming began in January this year with the Crestone Charter School. This year’s dramatic winter programming expansion is the result of a perfect storm leading to a wonderful silver lining. 

When I was a teacher at CCS from 2003 to 2011, the Monarch program included all students and teachers, grades four through 12, a handful of parent volunteers, our fleet of vans, and a focus on students mentoring students. Every fall high school students began conditioning for the upcoming winter season. As soon as the resort opened, usually in November, students who were to mentor others got trained on the mountain on ski and snowboard learning progressions. We would work on our own techniques, practice critiquing other’s abilities, roleplay beginner lessons, discuss safety and emergency procedures, and go over goal setting and monitoring of mentee abilities and groupings. In addition to the mentor perk of additional early-season days on the mountain, student mentors got a pass paid for by the school and increased freedom alongside increased responsibility. 

When the grade four-12 program began in earnest in those years, student and adult mentors would gather at 7 a.m. to discuss student grouping adjustments for individual student mentors, arrange van configuration, take attendance, and load the gear van. After driving to Monarch, mentors would set goals with their mentees for the training morning and head out on the slope, often catching “first chair” at 9 a.m. Students instructed other students from 9 a.m. to noon, including techniques, but also winter self-care, gear usage, mountain etiquette, and teamwork. Most found it fulfilling to interact and help peers develop their winter travel skills. Sometimes younger students got to mentor older students (or even their teacher!) creating opportunities for poignant role reversals. 

On powder days, many experienced the “lifties lament,” of having to watch people with no students to care for, cutting up the freshies while they were stuck on the bunny hill with beginners! After morning instruction and lunch, students paired up with similar ability buddies to safely explore the mountain together, often until “last chair” at 4 p.m. Several students learned to love the sport or even went on to become ski patrol members, instructors, or do other resort jobs. Every student graduated from CCS with mountain competence, a uniquely Colorado, or at least CCS, graduation expectation.

Fast forward to my re-entry to CCS in the fall of 2021, when COVID restrictions were still in place, Monarch Mountain had mandated the use of their ski and board instructors.

Student staffing, and parent numbers and participation were down, but the program ran again, approaching our 25th year. Students who did not want to or could not afford to participate in Monarch full-day programming had half-day alternative options including outdoor and physical ed, learning enrichment activities, and home-based parent-guided instruction. We worked to make rich programming for the non-Monarch students but many opted out, lacked engagement, or felt like the alternatives were not valuable.

In this new 2024 season we initiate several new aspects of the program to try to increase Monarch participation and to develop the non-Monarch programming. Monarch’s inability to provide instructors was welcomed by CCS as it allows us to go back to students mentoring students. Beginners are paired with experienced students and adults and are providing instruction based on learning progressions developed in prior years. This meets so many aspects of our school’s mission ( such as creatively-structured experiential programming developing character, self-esteem, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, responsibility for self and others, and so much more.

It also saved us money and allows for a needs-based season’s pass scholarship program, in the end funding 44% of all student passes. Funding for this may not be available for next year but played a big role in increasing participation from 33 students last year to 49 this year, nearly a 50% increase! 

Transitioning away from Moffat school buses to self-transportation is a big increase in staff responsibility and workload. However, it also contributed to funding the pass scholarship program. The non-Monarch programming was also reinvigorated to meet a variety of goals. Three lead teachers are organizing a rotation of activities including hikes, swimming, snowshoeing, gyms, and more. The biggest changes were to make it a full-day, off-site, physical education (PE)-related day. These bring us into better alignment with state-required contact hours for all secondary students. The calendar lists these as 7.5-hour days and now they actually are happening for all students. 

Off-site helps fulfill many of the aforementioned school mission objectives, and a quarter PE credit for each of four years fulfills graduation requirements. 

The extra students, extra staff, extra teaching, extra driving, extra non-Monarch programming, extra funding, and extra stormy weather made for extra fun and extra learning! The return bus ride had smiling and napping kids after their full day of adventurous experiential learning. This makes it all worth it.

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