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Freedom on the slopes

Published in the Durango Herald February 17, 2015

The occasion was the sixth and last snow outing of the season for them at Durango Mountain Resort.

“It’s amazing,” said Olga Snowberger, a special-education paraprofessional at Riverview Elementary School, who accompanied the students. “Some of them are barely able to communicate their needs, but they’re able to do what any other child does on the slopes.”

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The ski and snowboard outings are coordinated with the Adaptive Sports Association, which provides volunteers who accompany each student on a one-to-one or two-to-one basis.

“We’ve had a relationship with 9-R since we were founded 31 years ago,” said Ann Marie Meighan, the association’s program director. “We serve about 50 9-R students (at DMR) through what we call ‘San Juan Shredders.’

“The coolest part with the schools is that we get to know the kids and their educational goals,” Meighan said. “Skiing builds their independence.”

Overall, the association last year served 492 adults and children, many of whom participated in more than one program.

Students in the program range from kindergarten through fifth grade. The participants Tuesday were from Animas Valley, Riverview and Park elementary schools.

“The ski visits are a tremendous confidence builder,” Snowberger said. “Our severe-needs students see they can match what older students do.”

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Njal Schold, 9-R coordinator of exceptional-student services, said the visits to Purgatory give students a sense of independence.

“There is a sense of freedom,” Schold said. “There is a thrill of being on their own.”

When the Special Olympics program left Durango, the school district and the Adaptive Sports Association took up the challenge.

Severe-needs students have access to all other programs the district offers, Schold said. Older students take part in work-experience programs, he said…

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