Shush: verb, demanding silence.Schuss: verb, a high-speed run down an alpine slope.
Growing up in rural Massachusetts, there were very few outstanding elementary schools. I spent my earliest years at one, like so many schools at that time, where the pedagogy was comprised primarily of sage-on-the-stage classroom structure, an environment where students were expected to passively absorb whatever was espoused. We were essentially told to "sit and git." In the winter months, old steam radiators and teachers alike could be heard throughout the hallways and classrooms issuing their own versions of shhhhhh. Winter seemed a particularly inactive time to me, and the implicit message imparted by the faculty’s telltale shushing sounds was that learning, too, was meant to be inactive.
As I entered the sixth grade and my family began considering the options for junior high school (as it was once called), we found an incredible school, similar in so many ways to Tuxedo Park School. In that transition, I made note of the subtle and obvious differences. The faculty was vibrant and they were interested in me. Not only did they invite active classroom participation from their students, they wanted to know who I was and what I believed in. For the first time in my life, my teachers had roles outside of the classroom as well: they were my coaches, my table heads and my advisors.
In the classes and hallways we weren't “shushed,” but rather, we “schussed,” incorporating skiing as part of the engaging, wholistic academic program. From my observations it was clear that this was a very different kind of school, a place where learning was meant to be engaging and active. Tuxedo Park School is also a school that understands the active engagement of it students will cement a foundation for life-learning. It is also a school that schusses.
What, then, is the hidden curriculum of skiing? Peel back the layers, and the metaphors are revealed for learning, daily life and for meeting the future challenges of adulthood. In a day and age when students are increasingly plugged into a virtual world, skiing engages them physically in the real world. Long after the years of team sports and interscholastic competition, skiing offers students a compelling option for developing into healthy, active adults. Skiing requires forethought, preparation, split-second assessments, planning, bravery and an understanding of the environment. Self-possession comes from defining and achieving such personal goals as fitness and athletic skill. In equal measure, skiing enlivens the imagination and a sense of adventure. Upon each mountain descent, skiers have more than one Robert Frost moment of "two paths, diverging in a wood," of deciding which path to follow, and of that choice making all the difference. Finally, skiing is at once an independent and a social experience, an activity that connects people across cultures and generations.This was very much in evidence at our Gore Mountain Upper School Ski Trip last week, an activity that strengthened student-to-student, and student-to-teacher relationships, forging an increasingly tight-knit and cohesive community. While the institutional hallmark of skiing does not, in itself, ensure an exceptional education, the rare school such as TPS that incorporates such wholistic curriculum does much to address the multi-faceted nature of human development, and stands a better chance of preparing its students for their future.