Finding hope on the slopes

Teens with a troubled past lean self-discipline that helps them avoid a downhill life.

Jubilee Learning Academy’s intermediate snowboarding class takes a break in the action at Ski Bluewood on a recent Thursday. Left to right are Mario Batalia of Jubilee’s staff, Nolan Alan, Max Gardner, Bluewood snowboard instructor Travis Darling, Sebastian Smith and Mitchell Irwin.

Jubilee Learning Academy’s intermediate snowboarding class takes a break in the action at Ski Bluewood on a recent Thursday. Left to right are Mario Batalia of Jubilee’s staff, Nolan Alan, Max Gardner, Bluewood snowboard instructor Travis Darling, Sebastian Smith and Mitchell Irwin. Photo by Greg Fry

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When the going gets tough for some youths, the tough go snowboarding.

It’s a formula Jubilee Leadership Academy, in a partnership with Ski Bluewood, has found successful in helping troubled kids find their way in life and to toe the line academically.

“One young man hadn’t done any work all year, and now he’s getting his academic percentages up,” said Greg Fry, Jubilee math instructor and coordinator of the six week skiing and snowboarding program. “We think if that can continue for six weeks it becomes a habit. And generally as we’ve seen the academics increase the behavioral incidents are reduced.”

Jubilee, a Christian-based boarding school founded by Broetje Orchards in Walla Walla County for boys in grades 7-12, has partnered with Ski Bluewood to provide snowboarding and ski lessons for interested students. This program is one of many enrichment opportunities the Prescott-area school offers.

“Jubilee is taking kids and giving them a second chance,” said Fry. “Maybe they’ve been kicked out of school ... this is a new chance to get a new start.”

An important factor is the students must pony up $15 for each Thursday ski/snowboarding trip and be on their game academically and behaviorally.

That way, Fry said, “They’ve got skin in the game.”

The program, which will be followed by different sports in the spring, has ended up to be so motivating that behavior and school work improve, he said.

The academy, formerly called Jubilee Youth Ranch, got its start in 1995, the brainchild of orchardists Ralph and Cheryl Broetje. The academy takes in students from all over the country. Cultural backgrounds of the 55 to 60 students enrolled each year are diverse, as is the racial makeup of the school. About 14 students are in the snowboarding program.

For 16 year-old Max Gardner, from Long Beach, Wash., Jubilee is a reality check.

“I was making poor choices, using drugs and partying. When I first came to Jubilee I hated it, having a structure and having to follow the rules. But after being here for awhile I realized the rules are there for a reason. I had huge respect issues. I find Jubilee very helpful for getting my life on the right track and getting my head straight.”

The snowboarding trips are something he really enjoys: “The time on the slope is awesome.”

Jubilee also has been a life-changer Sebastian Smith, from Medical Lake, Wash. He said he was in trouble with drugs and alcohol when he came to the academy. As he was going along with the program and doing what he was supposed to be doing, it dawned on him that it’s what he’d really wanted to be doing all along. And with snowboarding he’s learning self control.

“I had to prove myself to myself first,” said Smith, who will be a senior next year.

Fry said the first thing students in the Bluewood program get is a series of lessons.

“All of them improve, snowboarders and our one skier,” he said. “We’re hoping for them to gain experience and appreciation for the outdoors and for snow sports. They gain skills and it costs money, so they know that as an adult they have to have a job to earn money for the sport. It’s motivation for the future. There’s one veteran snowboarder who is now interested in becoming an instructor.”

The program also helps teach reliability.

“They have to be at their lesson at a certain time and if they don’t get back on time they will cause the bus to be late,” Fry said. “If that happens they don’t get to go to the next one. It helps them to develop promptness.

The program is made possible Ski Bluewood’s donation of lift tickets, equipment and lessons for each student. The students pay $15 per day and Jubilee pays for the reduced price helmet rental, transportation, lunch, driver and chaperone

Jubilee also provides Bluewood with a summer work crew for several days of maintenance on ski runs.

The program was started in about 2000 by Ron Huntington, a former Jubilee teacher whom Fry calls a “legend” for his long coaching career. The program continued four years and then intermittently. When Fry came to Jubilee last fall of 2012, he and Bluewood’s general manager Jody Ream and his staff put together the current program.

Ream said the Jubilee program is among several youth outreach programs the ski area has going.

“It’s all about good times and learning to respect each other,” he said. “First of all they have to learn to respect themselves. In society today there are a lot of things pulling people into bad decisions. Skiing and snowboarding are positive experiences, healthy and outdoors ... We want to help make a difference.”

The programs at Jubilee focus on the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the students.

“It is a faith-based school program,” Fry said. “So that allows us to do things not allowed in public schools, such as having chapel.”

Spirituality and religion are personal choices in the school, however, just as they are outside.

“Some want nothing to do with it and that is an option, as long as they are respectful about it,” Fry said. “One snowboarder wanted no part of anything that had to do with God. And he just accepted the Lord a couple of weeks ago. I think he just got tired of being angry all the time. For some of the boys, it is totally life-changing. We can’t control the outcomes but we can certainly plant the seeds. And we try to live it as staff. We hold ourselves as accountable as the kids.”

“... It’s in scripture — the meaning of jubilee — from the Jewish tradition of every 10 years debts are forgiven,” Fry said.

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