What images are usually associated with elementary school PE classes? Children's games? Foot races? Dodgeball? Children at most schools have their physical education classes in a gym or on a playground. Camp Sherman's Black Butte School (BBS), however, has a PE program that sounds more like a fantasy camp. As befits a community carved out of the Cascade forest, the little two-room schoolhouse in the woods takes full advantage of its surrounding environment.

As might be expected at an elementary school, the BBS PE program offers sport and athletic endeavors such as bicycling, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, football, soccer, baseball, and bowling. But how many grade schools have a PE program that includes activities such as snowman making, cave exploration, hiking to the summit of Black Butte, cross-country skiing in the forest, alpine skiing at Hoodoo Ski Resort, snowshoeing, sledding, or cross-country trail running along the Metolius River?

Health and Physical Education Specialist Stephanie Blakelock is responsible for the unique PE program at BBS, which caters to 24 kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

"My physical education program highlights a health-and-fitness-based focus celebrating lifelong participation in fun activities to promote enthusiasm and excitement for long-term health and wellness," Blakelock said.

Another of the more unusual PE activities at BBS was a golf unit at Black Butte Ranch, courtesy of parent David Banks, which was taught by professional golf instructors. The students prepared for the series of lessons by practicing at golf stations set up on the school's own field.

Probably the most exciting highlight for the BBS students and staff is embodied in the unique relationship that BBS has developed over the last 40 years with nearby Hoodoo Ski Resort. Started in 1973 by the late Jack Walker of Camp Sherman, the BBS ski program touches lives in a way that has lifelong impact. Each ski season, depending on weather and snow conditions, BBS students spend eight to ten Fridays receiving quality ski instruction at Hoodoo.

BBS alum Jamie (Sundquist) Lillard, now of California, recently reminisced to Blakelock about her years at BBS. "I never appreciated what I had in this small community," said Lillard. "None of this is common and shouldn't be taken for granted. I just want everyone out there to know that this 34-year-old BBS alum still treasures my BBS and Hoodoo days like no other."

Blakelock is quick to point out that participation in the ski school activities is an earned privilege.

"Students must have their school work complete, behavior in check, homework done on time, and student responsibilities taken care of," she explained. "Students must demonstrate the responsibility, respect, and manners to earn session participation. They are held to high standards and expected to step up to the level worthy of this enormous privilege..."

Lillard agrees. "To this day," she said, "I talk about getting my "flash cards under a minute' so I could go hit the slopes. They taught us independence."

The "earned privilege" aspect of the program is enforced, and it is not unusual for students whose performance falls short to miss out on the day's activities. To make a missed ski day even worse, students who forfeit the privilege still make the trip to Hoodoo but must spend the day making up class work in the lodge, while their classmates are out enjoying adventures in the snow. It is a lesson the kids take to heart.

Fifth grader Jessi Glanz offered her own analysis of the object lessons being taught: "This program is teaching me responsibility. Not missing homework is one thing. This program is teaching me whole different things I didn't even know."

Like all the instructors at Hoodoo, Blakelock is certified to teach ski lessons by the Professional Ski Instructors of America. She also works at Hoodoo as the supervisor of the Mountain Cubs ski school. Mountain Cubs is a weekend program where young skiers, aged four to six years, can be dropped off for all day or half a day to receive supervision and ski lessons.

Even students of kindergarten age take part in the BBS ski program, and it is obvious that the instructors enjoy the unique BBS opportunity almost as much as the kids themselves. "These are good kids," said Hoodoo and PSIA instructor Bill Turner. "Some of them will be great skiers, too!"

Fourth-grader Hudson Jones was quick to praise his instructors and stressed that he wanted to do just what they say "to do right and make no mistakes." He went on to say, "I like skiing because ... when I ski, I feel like I am flying."

As an alum who passed through the BBS program more than two decades ago, Lillard summed it up well. "I am forever changed from these experiences; and I plan to impact others, including my family, in the way this program has touched me," she said. "I hope that the program lives on because you never know how widespread the impact can be ... look at me ... This girl would never be who I am without it!"