Learning on the Mountain & Off

The front of Bingham Hall. Backpacks are piled outside because all the faculty and students are inside at morning assembly.

Students studying in the Sanborn Family Library, which was renovated in 2011. The entire campus is wireless, and all students are issued a MacBook Air on which to work. 

An alpine skier on Monday Mourning, Sunday River's dedicated race trail

Ten students are enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music program at Gould Academy

Gould Academy shares an all-Steinway School designation with schools such as Juilliard and the Yale School of Music

Trumpeter Ali Parker a sophomore, takes her music lessons through videoconference, thanks to a Gould Academy partnership with the Manhattan School of Music.

Director of On-Snow Programs Mark Godomsky, standing in a Newry field with the mountain in the background

Lunch on a sunny winter day

Junior Amelia Laguia Garcia and two recent graduates, J.K. Lee and Belis Turegun, head out to catch a bus to Sunday River

Gould's indoor skate park with Junior Zoe Bean

Alpine skiers Will Cole and Benji Page


A partnership with Gould Academy brings skiers and students to Sunday River

It’s a bitterly cold winter day, and Madison Hertzog and Stephen Dexter, seniors at Gould Academy, are showing me around campus. It’s an odd day to tour the Bethel prep school, and not just because of the brutal weather. Classes have ended for the winter term, and students have largely scattered for March projects. Some of the freshmen are headed to Tanzania, the rest to China. Sophomores are staying on campus for a community service effort. Juniors will take an eight-day winter camping trip, and seniors will engage in projects of their own choosing.

“Like what?” I ask.

“It could be anything from cleaning up a river in Ohio to an internship at the New York Times to photojournalism in Burma,” says Stephen. It’s not exactly the answer I am expecting. Burma? Tomorrow, Madison is going to Palo Alto to work with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Wow,” I say, a little dumbfounded. “That’s incredible.”

Madison bobs her head. Gould keeps her busy. “I like it,” she says simply. “There are a lot of opportunities you can take advantage of.”

This is, I will soon come to see, an understatement. Although it has a campus of brick buildings that makes it look like a comfortably endowed New England liberal arts college, with 240 students and 72 faculty Gould Academy isn’t that big. Still, there’s plenty on offer: a rigorous college- prep curriculum, a stylish new library, an art gallery, a visiting writers program, a science center, and a farm with pigs, sheep, and horses. There’s also a “maker-in-residence,” which Tucker Kimball, the former director of communications, describes as someone who “helps our students take their ideas, design them, and then build them using creative software suites, 3D printers and scanners, CNC routers, large-format printers, sewing machines, vinyl cutters, and more.”

This gets another “wow” out of me. I don’t even know what all this stuff is.

As emptied-out as the campus is, I still manage to meet a few students on my tour. In the IDEAS Center, I find Chris Jones, a junior from Burlington, Vermont, who is fiddling with his quadcopter, a drone onto which he has attached a camera so he can film students at Sunday River as they ski. (IDEAS stands for Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship, Arts, and Sciences.) Jones has special permission from Sunday River to use his quadcopter to film at different angles and even to follow skiers at their speed as they whip down the mountain. I don’t meet, but I hear, Ali Parker playing a trumpet. When I pass by the music room, she’s inside, having a video-conference music lesson with an instructor from the Manhattan School of Music. I peek through a crack between the door and doorframe and see that she is alone in a room with cameras and microphones focused on her; her instructor is on a giant screen in front of her.

What’s perhaps most amazing is that in addition to experiences that include off-campus travel, music lessons, state-of-the art laboratories, and any of Gould’s many programs and resources, the school’s location affords students a range of on-mountain opportunities as well, including a competitive skiing and snowboarding program, ski patrol instruction, and the ability to work hands on with Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation.

Sunday River, New England’s second largest ski resort, is in Newry just down the road from Gould, and Gould students hit the mountain every day. Twice a week in winter, the academic schedule is rearranged so students can ski before classes, when the snow is the best. For Dana Bullen, president and general manager of Sunday River, the moment when 200 students arrive at the mountain and pile out of busses is the happiest of his day. “It just takes the energy level of Sunday River to a whole new place on a daily basis,” Bullen says. “It makes a good day better, and it turns a bad day around.”

Gould and Sunday River have always had some sort of relationship. Gould is the old-timer in the area, having been around since 1836. In 1959, when Sunday River was established, Gould helped with the last $10,000 Sunday River needed to get off the ground. But it wasn’t until 1994 that something more complex evolved. At that time, Gould was looking to create programs to attract students. There were ski academies throughout New England that were specifically designed to train competitive alpine and Nordic skiers. With Sunday River and its eight interconnected mountain peaks just down the road, Gould thought there might be a way to capture this market. They ended up working together to develop several youth programs that operate under or with the Gould Academy Competition Program (one that develops competitive skiers and snowboarders, one that offers kids from afar the opportunity to work with coaches and athletes through a weekend program, and one that works directly with Sunday River’s Perfect Turn to transition young kids from the
fundamentals to competition).

Minot residents Kristin and Marc Kannegieser sent their older daughter, an alpine skier, to Gould Academy because they were looking for a school where academics came first. Their son trained in the weekend program and eventually entered Gould as a full-time student too. What sets the ski program apart, says Kristin, is the connection with Sunday River, which makes snow—and such good snow—so early in the season. “The students are on snow long before anyone in the East,” she says. “Other mountains are stingy about the terrain, but the students have trails all the time, whether it is a busy day or not, and Sunday River grooms trails specifically for the kids. They even open the ski resort early for our kids to train.” The coaches—overseen by Director of On-Snow Programs Mark Godomsky—are another big plus in Kristin’s mind. They have positive energy and a unified vision for their students’ training.

The Gould Academy Competition Program is obviously about competition, but not all of Gould Academy’s ski programs are competitive. Madison came to Gould to ski but hurt her knee and ended up working with Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, teaching people with disabilities. Gould also has a “Rug Rat” program, in which students teach local elementary school children to ski and snowboard. Through the ski patrol program—the only one of its kind recognized by the National Ski Patrol—a student can learn how to be an EMT on the mountain. Stephen, who came to Gould, in part, for the freestyle skiing program, got involved in the ski patrol at the suggestion of his advisor. He recently earned his ski patrol jacket, a big honor, not one that all of the students who participate in the program are able to achieve. If they do, it is a moment of particular pride, typically celebrated in an all-school assembly. “Talk about a teenager doing important things,” says Matt Ruby, the head of school. “That is a big deal.”

Ruby never skied before he moved to Maine in 2012 to take over as Head of School for Gould Academy. He’s learning, though. On his first day out on the mountain, he moved as fast as a snowshoer might. You’d think a non-skier wouldn’t be so enamored of the Sunday River partnership, but it was precisely the alliance that made him eager to head Gould. It suggested “a creative, agile school,” he says, and he liked the idea of the mountain as a learning facility. When he talks about the school now, he references “here” and “there,” his hand inevitably gesturing downward, when he is talking about the campus, or upward, when he is referring to the mountain. “Core to Gould’s mission,” Ruby says, “is graduating kids that are self-directed.” Students are learning particular skills on the mountain, he says, but they are also figuring out how to walk in two worlds, how to be citizens on campus and at Sunday River, how to collaborate, how to make decisions, and how to interact with the community.

Unless they are in the ski patrol and wearing patrol jackets, Gould Academy students wear Gould jackets when they are on the mountain. Dana Bullen says, “When kids go to Gould, they look you in the eye and shake your hand. They talk to adults without any sense of reservation. Having these kids in the resort and interacting with our guests is a really positive experience.” Part of students’ self-possession may be due to how actively they need to figure out how to prioritize and balance the various claims on their time. As we are walking around, Stephen mentions that he is in the band. I ask him about his classes, which include several at the advanced-placement level. When he and Madison show me a lecture hall, he tells me that the reason he is so dressed up—shirt and tie under his Gould jacket—is that he did a morning presentation in this room on Iranian defense attorneys and how they are being prosecuted for helping people who are standing up for their civil rights. In the blacksmith shop, he shows me the fire poker he made earlier in the year. When we pass his dorm, he lets me know he’s a proctor. He’s not bragging, just answering my questions and describing his day.

When I observe to Matt Ruby that it seems like it would be hard to be a slacker at Gould, he nods his head in fervent agreement. “This is a fit for a passionate kid who wants to be engaged with adults and accomplish things,” he says.

Toward the end of my tour, we go into the field house. There’s no one on the indoor skateboard park or the indoor tennis courts or basketball courts, but there are a few boys lifting weights in the weight room, and then there’s a big surprise: a giant trampoline room, in which a boy is performing high flips then jumping into an enormous pile of foam blocks. Madison and Stephen explain that before students can perform tricks on the snow, they work here. Then they graduate to the mountain, where they land on a big air bag. Finally they get to the point where they can confidently land on snow.

Before we say goodbye, Madison and Stephen take me to the cafeteria—“the best restaurant in Bethel,” they insist— and then tell me how they hear from recent alums that college doesn’t feel so hard after the training they’ve had at Gould. Madison has to head to the airport for her California internship, and Stephen is going over to Sunday River to ski. “Oh,” I say, confused. I thought the semester was over. “Do you have practice?”

“Oh, no,” he says. He’s just meeting some friends. He’s going for fun.

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