by Jacey Overton, Corporate Communications Manager, LifeSize
Billy Demong. Lindsay Vonn. Hannah Kearney. Ted Ligety. The US Ski and Snowboard Team has a lot of stars today, and the Olympic hardware to prove it. Ever wonder what went into the years of training for these athletes? How they combined hours of grueling training and keeping up with their schoolwork? After all, for most of us, coordinating school, sports and other activities is hard enough. Just imagine having to coordinate all of that around the reality that competitive ski athletes spend several hours a day on snow. Often the training takes place in locations far from home and even farther from the traditional classroom. It’s not unusual for a competitive high school ski or snowboard athlete to miss nearly two months of school for training and competitions.
A school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado is using LifeSize technologies to provide remote athlete-students with real-time access to classroom discussions and teacher presentations. The Lowell Whiteman School, a private college prep academy, in conjunction with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC), a world-famous breeding ground for competitive winter sports athletes in Nordic, Alpine and Freestyle skiing and Snowboarding, offers students the option to go on an adapted “competitive winter sports” schedule. But even with the special schedule, educators at Whiteman found it difficult to keep in touch with their student athletes who were training and competing in locations ranging from Chile to Austria to Japan. Now, with their PC-based LifeSize Desktop systems installed on the athlete’s laptops and LifeSize Team 220 systems in the classroom, Lowell Whiteman teachers can connect in real time with their remote students via high-speed, HD video. The remote student athletes can participate in discussions as if they were in the classroom. Or, if time differences make it inconvenient for the students to participate live, they can watch, through their laptops, a high definition recording of the class session during their study period that evening, all captured via LifeSize Video Center.
This past winter, 12 high school SSWSC Alpine athletes spent a month in the US Ski Team’s training facilities near Innsbruck, Austria. In a pioneering program, they spent three to four hours a day on snow, plus another two hours in off-snow training. To take advantage of daylight hours on the glacier, schoolwork was scheduled in the late afternoon and evening. Lowell Whiteman School students, using the LifeSize Desktop system, were able to communicate with their home teachers daily, resulting in higher grades and better understanding of the English, mathematics, science, history and foreign language classes they were missing.
Whiteman headmaster Chris Taylor praised the system. “Lowell Whiteman School is excited about embracing next-generation distance learning and telepresence-based learning technologies. These new technologies enable our elite athletes and other students to pursue their dreams, while still benefiting from our exceptional teachers and comprehensive academic curriculum,” he said.
The SSWSC Alpine Competitive Director and Olympic Gold Medalist Deb Armstrong agreed, pointing out how the LifeSize system made schoolwork less of a struggle for the athletes, giving them the extra confidence to push themselves harder on the hill.
SSWSC executive director, Rick DeVos, echoed these sentiments, adding, “The SSWSC prides itself on producing Olympians, but we are equally proud of the focus we put on the integration of our programs with our athletes’ schooling, starting at the elementary school level and reaching right up into concentrated post-graduate programs for college-age athletes. They don’t call Steamboat ‘Ski Town USA’ for nothing!”
Whiteman’s student athletes voiced enthusiastic support for the system. “The LifeSize system is really cool. The video and audio is really clear, so we can actually follow what’s going on in our classes at Whiteman. It makes it a lot easier to keep up with our schoolwork, which makes the whole Austria training trip a lot less stressful academically. I feel like I can concentrate on my GS, slalom and SuperG training without worrying that I’ll fail a class when I get back to school in a month,” said Alex Barounos, a 15-year-old Junior Olympian ski racer.
LifeSize is dedicated to helping students achieve in the classroom, whether they are star athletes or destined for another career path. To learn more about how LifeSize technologies helped the students of Lowell Whiteman accomplish their goals, click on this Computerworld article to read an interview with Andy Pratt, the school’s director of technology.