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Story Last modified at 9:19 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fire Lake ski program offers a recess from recess
Program teaches up to 100 kids at a time to ski, stay fit and have fun

Alaska Star


Fire Lake second-graders Brooklyn Peters, Justice Davis and Leah Boylan hold up cards showing how they placed in the Fire Lake Recess Ski Program races held April 1 at the school. The daylong races were the culmination of a season-long ski recess-time program that teacher Cynthia Bombeck started two years ago. Bombeck said there are about 100 kids involved in the program.

Even though the springtime melt has arrived in full force, about 100 kids from Fire Lake Elementary School have been making the most of their new favorite wintertime sport: cross-country skiing.

At the school's second annual Fire Lake Recess Ski Program festival, the kids skidded and skied in soft snow in their final races of the year, sprinting around a quickly melting course with a finish line decorated by a school banner.

Fire Lake resource teacher Cynthia Bombeck has been leading kids in the popular ski club for two years now. It's an option during recess for kids who want to try something new, or perfect an already-preferred sport.

"I noticed (last year) that we had a lot of older model cross-country ski equipment and thought we might see if students were interested in skiing during their recess," said Bombeck, who has taught at Fire Lake for six years. "We began with the older students first, fifth-graders, and every two weeks added the next lower grade. By late winter of 2010 we had kindergarteners through fifth-graders skiing."

At the April 1 event, a controlled chaos dominated as packs of kids lined up by grade and gender at the start line then took off in a jumble of skis and snow gear up a hill and into a wooded area behind the school.

It doesn't matter their ability, Bombeck said, just that the kids are having fun.

"I grew up in upstate New York and spent the winters skiing whenever I could," she said. "I enjoyed skiing immensely and love to share the fun, exhilaration and opportunities I experienced with any students who want to try it."

At about midday, the second-grade girls began appearing over the ridge and skiing toward the finish line. First across was 8-year-old Justice Davis, who shot down the hill in a neat tuck and executed a graceful hockey stop at the end.

Even though Bombeck told the kids repeatedly, "It doesn't matter how you place, just that you complete the race," Davis was thrilled with the first-place ticket she got to cash in at the end of the week for prizes. Bombeck some of the kids have been eyeing the prize box all season, hoping to win a little something for their efforts.


Fire Lake Elementary School ski program participants Camryn Evans (kneeling), Marissa Hendrickson (behind her, in pink hat), and Katelee Khang (right, with no poles) make their way up a hill leading from the race start during the April 1 Fire Lake Recess Ski Program Festival. About 75 percent of the school's population takes part in the recess-time learn-to-ski program, said teacher and organizer Cynthia Bombeck. (Below) Bombeck helps second-grader Ryan Fesler get started up a small hill during the races.

"We never miss skiing," Justice said. "I do it because I love it, and it's mainly just to have fun."

Leah Boylan, 8, came across the line second, her long, black hair flying out behind her as she whizzed under the "Fire Lake Elementary Ski Festival" banner.

"I do skiing because there's nothing to do on the playground," Boylan said of her daily recess time. "And it gives you good exercise."

Not only is it great exercise, Bombeck said, but it also encourages kids to explore the outdoors in an interactive way.

"It is such a great way to get outside during the winter and glide or fly through the trails," she said. "I believe getting students outside and exploring nature enhances their learning experiences and opportunities inside the classroom."

About 75 percent of the school's students have taken part in the recess ski program, and it continues to grow, Bombeck said. One parent volunteer, Ken Franklin, shows up every day to help organize the day's skiing, and other staff members – including the school nurse, janitors and teachers – pitch in to make the program a success.

Bombeck said she hopes to enhance the program even more next year, and is already thinking about ways to keep the kids motivated. There is an ongoing demand for updated gear – the PTA has already donated about $950 to help purchase more boots and skis – and volunteers are always welcome, she said.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 13, 2011.