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Elementary schools go international

JULIE SUTOR
Summit Daily/Reid Williams Breckenridge Elementary students joined race fans Friday at Breckenridge Ski Resort to watch disabled athletes compete at the Hartford Ski Spectacular.
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SUMMIT COUNTY – Breckenridge Elementary students spent most of Friday on the slopes bundled up, buckled up and strapped in.Some might wonder why kids growing up in ski country should leave school for a day to be at one of the local resorts. But the students would say – rather convincingly – that they were learning important lessons about respect, empathy, risk-taking and confidence.The students had come to Breckenridge Ski Resort to cheer on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, for which their school has become an unofficial sponsor. Athletes on the team visited the school last Wednesday to share their stories, talk about their disabilities and relate their journeys to success as competitive athletes.”I think the disabled athletes are big risk-takers, going down the mountain with a disability,” said Breckenridge fifth-grader Alex Sleep. “It teaches me that if I set my mind to something, I can do it.”

During Friday’s field trip, the students congregated at a race course finish line at the Hartford Ski Spectacular and enthusiastically celebrated by ringing cowbells – a tradition at ski races.”We’re showing respect by cheering them on,” said Breckenridge fifth-grader Garrett McAlister. “I respect them because, even though they’re disabled, they still ski. They’re real risk-takers and they follow their dreams.”Words like “risk-taking” and “confidence” pepper children’s vocabulary throughout Summit County, as the six public elementary schools begin to incorporate the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) into their curricula.PYP is an international education philosophy and teaching strategy for students ages 3 to 12. The program encourages students to see themselves in the context of a global society as they pursue academics and character education. Summit Middle School students already receive instruction under the guidelines of the IB Middle Years Program.”The concept of internationalism, as we look at it in PYP, is that we’re bigger than Summit County,” said Dillon Valley Elementary principal Gayle Jones. “The global perspective is a natural fit for our character education program in terms of creating more tolerance and respect. It really encourages kids to be thinkers and communicators and to be more open-minded.”

PYP outlines a list of attitudes and personal characteristics that teachers thread through their everyday instruction. All the elementary schools address one or two of the attitudes each month.”Our counselors are part of that, and we also address them through literature. We choose good children’s literature to share that provokes discussion on those topics,” Jones said.The Breckenridge trip to watch the disabled ski team was part of a staff effort to provide a close-up, real-world experience in which the students could put the attitudes into action.”It was a real eye-opener for some of our children,” Breckenridge Elementary principal Rebecca Wilson said. “We had athletes with no legs; some had artificial limbs they took off and showed the children.”These athletes truly embody that positive risk-taking, enthusiasm and confidence. Some of these are big words for elementary students, but they can do it when given authentic learning experiences,” Wilson said.

Breckenridge and Dillon Valley Elementary Schools are leading the charge on PYP introduction into their schools. The process generally takes three to six years, with extensive staff training, planning and visits to existing PYP schools, which the two schools are coordinating as a team.In addition to incorporating the attitudes and personal characteristics into their lessons, teachers must write extensive unit plans that use inquiry-based instruction.”This process takes a lot of time, energy and investment. It’s not a quick thing that’s done overnight. Staff will have opportunities for professional growth credit, and we intend to have a very supportive process for all this,” Jones said.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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