WVA PERSPECTIVES
Tory's Perspective
We spend a lot of time talking about academics and athletics at WVA, for obvious, important, and essential reasons. Our student-athletes are starting to feel pressure (real or imagined, it doesn’t actually matter which) regarding the ski season, the college process, their grades, and the end of the first semester. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about mental health, resilience, anxiety, joy, and all the different ways that health can or cannot manifest. This community: students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, neighbors, teammates – is extraordinary. We live in a truly intimate environment here on campus. Teachers and coaches observe our students, and each other, day in and day out: both the good (wow, he looks so much more confident this week in classes!) and the bad (hmm, anyone else notice that he’s been wearing the same shirt for three days now? Anyone know what’s up?) The support network that we enjoy is unrivaled, but it can also mean that life is somewhat …fishbowl-y.

A focus on mental health is valuable at all times, but in particular this year and in fact, I’d argue most especially this time of year. It’s the darkest, coldest time of year. We’re skiing (hallelujah!) but there’s fairly limited terrain available. It’s been an amazing, but long, stretch of 16 weeks of school. As we go into break, I’d like to provide you all with some resources I’ve seen and read lately that have been good and timely reminders of the necessity for taking care of our students not just as athletes, and not just as students, but as growing young adults.

Alice Merryweather, a member of the US Ski Team who primarily races speed events, (and a Hingham, Mass native!) announced this week that she is taking some time away for her mental health after having been diagnosed with an eating disorder within the last months. Her social media post is heartfelt and so brave, and I recommend checking it out. https://skiracing.com/alice-merryweather-opens-up-about-eating-disorder-announces-a-break/

Hig Roberts, a student I worked with in my previous job, a former Middlebury College athlete and US Ski Teamer, publicly came out as gay in an article published in the NY Times. Hig is a two-time national champion, raced in raced 31 World Cups representing USA, and admits that even at the pinnacle of his accomplishments he wrestled with feeling deeply unhappy with a disconnect between his public and private self. Hig is, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the first male Alpine World Cup athlete to come out. Again – his announcement is so brave. I hope he’ll be a role model for the many children currently ski racing who may be reckoning with their own identity or trying to reconcile their identity with their athletic role models. LINK https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/13/sports/skiing/hig-roberts-comes-out.html

Alexi Pappas, an Olympic long-distance runner, produced this thought-provoking (video! No reading required!) editorial for the NY Times where she asks sports organizations and teams to consider treating mental health with the same seriousness and resources as we do physical health: rehabbing a mental injury, in her mind, should be as much a part of your athletic performance as a pulled hamstring. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/07/opinion/alexi-pappas-depression.html?searchResultPosition=7

Finally, on the flip side, a wonderful article written by Jim Taylor about a pal of mine, Parker Biele, about mental strength, long term development, and resilience. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Jim, and he takes the position that “sports psychology” should more accurately be called “mental training” which aligns nicely with the point Alexi Pappas is making. We are building muscles here! I coached Parker when she was a J4, then a U14, and saw her through all the years of middle and high school where she grinded away without a whiff of glory. For the kids out there in our program who aren’t getting on the podium, or even getting near it, I want you to take the lesson of Parker’s long-term determination! https://skiracing.com/taylor-parker-biele-is-my-hero/

As we all continue to work hard to help your children develop skills and abilities in the classroom and on the hill, so called “hard skills,” this is a reminder that soft skills and mental strength is just as important. At the end of the most difficult year that any of us can remember, it deserves to be top of mind. Even those of us who have it the most together, or whose accomplishments are most exceptional, may need extra support every now and again. I hope you’ll let us know if any of these resources resonate with you, and please feel free to share anything that you may be reading, watching, or listening to!

I surely don’t want to count my chickens prematurely, but we are right on the brink – this close – to putting 2020 behind us, FINALLY. I’m sure I won’t be the only one taking a deep, deep sigh of relief when we close the dorm on Tuesday and send all your healthy kids home to you for the holiday break. My endless appreciation and gratitude to our unbelievable staff of educators: teachers, coaches, and administrators – I truly cannot express how resilient, competent and skillful this staff is. They deserve this break!

Best,
Tory

Holiday Break Schedule

December 22nd - Dorms close for Break at 5 pm. Athletes will be permitted in the dorm after training.

January 1st - Dorm re-opens at 4 pm. The first dorm meal will be dinner.
*If you are not planning to return to the dorm on the 1st please reach out to the dorm staff*
**A negative PCR covid test is required to move into the dorm**

January 4th - In-person classes resume.
*A negative PCR covid test is required to return to class*
Academic Perspective
Snow, Christmas-Holiday break, and some well-deserved rest; the timing is perfect. The last day of classes is coming up next Tuesday, December 22nd when we go on break, after classes and training, through New Year’s, then classes resume on Monday, January 4th, 2021. Thank you for following the protocols and being safe which has allowed us all, all things considered, to have an awesome experience this fall. Ahh, the winter solstice; Monday brings in the new season and the new year is not far behind. Let’s be safe through the holidays with anticipation of good times together in the new year!

Progress reports for the Winter Term and Middle School Students will be compiled and delivered during the first week of January. The Full Term is on a slightly different schedule later at the end of the month (January).

It was great to see so many parents/families during our virtual Parent Teacher event this week. I do enjoy the traditional on-campus event; however, thanks to Zoom, many more connections were able to be made than usual which is a wonderful thing. All the fed back I have received was great and I look forward to hearing more from parents and Faculty. As a Faculty, we greatly appreciate the opportunity to get to know our families better.

I wish everyone a wonderful Holiday and look forward to a little fun in the snow.

See you on the hill!

Best,

Gary

Student Involvement
Middle School students getting some hands on science experience with Kim Berman this week!
The Roper Coat drive continues until Tuesday, 12/22. Drop-off your gently used jackets, coats, and winter wear in the WVA community room
The folder above will be updates through out the year with updated photos from events, competitions, trips, and more! Check back often to see the latest!
College Corner
This week I discussed the use of cell phones and social media with our students in the dorm. As a faculty, this topic comes up frequently regarding our ever-present hope that kids are lured into our lifestyle here, thus pulling them away from these sources of media. We have a healthy active staff spanning from coaches to admin, and of course, a faculty that live by example and consistently shows students the way. WVA is a great environment for children to live, learn, and grow. In fact, as a past parent who has experienced three or four schools with three children, it’s possible the best environment I have ever known.

Still, the lure of media is powerful. I have taken note this week, both looking back at the fall and taking inventory now, of what our students are doing during their free time. First off it is important to note, they have very little downtime. There was undoubtedly more time in the fall, but now that we are skiing their downtime totals no more than two hours a day. During the approximately 30 minutes before study hall, right after dinner, they are often unpacking bags, setting up their rooms for study, socializing a bit, or doing laundry some days. After study hall, they have about an hour and a half. During this time, they habitually destress and play. They often go for walks, head to the TBTC to tramp and play basketball, or spin. With the new snow, I expect a sledding fest (which reminds me I need to go get some sleds!)

On the weekends, or on off-time blocks, I have witness students go mountain biking or hiking with staff, walking to town, heading to the pool for extra time in the water or the hot tub, or watching a movie together. Students have taken part in fundraisers, and community events such as the Halloween Haunted walk. Our residents are a fairly close-knit bunch in the dorm that like to hang out as a group in the lounge or congregate in the cafeteria to make meal # 5 of the day. Last Friday night we made gingerbread houses and cookies for an evening activity which took hours. Thursday night, Sarah Heidinis was on dorm duty playing Connect-4 after study hall. In our last dorm meeting, we discussed activities that use both sides of our brains, and I suggested that we created an art space in the dorm for painting and drawing during downtime.

I write to both encourage myself and others that there are many things to feel positive about regarding the unscheduled time that students have here at the academy.  Add this to the scheduled time and these kids are so productive. We all need to be consistent in sending the message to our students to fill their time wisely by focusing on the positive, healthy things they can do. Having many years into my time at WVA I feel assured that over time, it all sinks in. Our graduates are thriving, strong, successful young men and women and are our examples.

Talk soon,
Pfay