JOHN DAY - Greg Whipple and Mike Cosgrove want to keep kids learning - even outside of school.

The pair have been involved with the Friday Academy Anthony Lakes Ski Bus since its creation more than 10 years ago.

The Friday Academy program started when the Grant County Education Service District went to a four-day school week in 1997. Organizers wanted to keep students busy and learning despite not going to school on Fridays.

The students get to take three trips to Anthony Lakes each year. The program schedules four trips to make sure that kids who miss one due to sports or work can still make it to the mountain three times.

"One of the things we're trying to do is to create a learning environment for the kids," Whipple said. "They may not be learning school subjects, but they learn to be safe on the mountain. Safety is an important part of the program."

Students are required to take lessons before they are allowed to take to the mountain. They also ski or snowboard in groups of buddies to increase the safety.

"They all take lessons, but you always have the kids that think they're hot dogs, that are trying to sneak off to the mountain early," Whipple said."

Trent Sohr, an eighth-grader at Mt. Vernon Middle School, said the program has taught him a lot.

"I learned how to ski and snowboard during my first trips when I was like 5 years old," Sohr said. "I just like getting out and skiing. It's fun because there are lots of people to ski with."

Barb Sohr, Trent's mother and a trip chaperone, said she thinks the trips and lessons have lowered the number of skiing and snowboarding injuries that might otherwise occur.

"I do know I've seen a lot of improvement in the kids' skiing and snowboarding over the years," Sohr said. "Knock on wood, but I credit the lessons for fewer accidents. At first it wasn't uncommon to have a few bad accidents during a trip."

Grant County students aren't the only ones benefiting from the ski bus program. A group of seven foreign exchange students from Argentina went on a skiing trip this winter. The students said it was only the second time they had seen snow, as it rarely snows in their home, Buenos Aires, and their first time trying snowboarding.

"It was painful," exchange student Malena Espeche said. "I couldn't move for two days. I fell down a million times. It was funny. It was our first time doing extreme sports."

Fellow exchange student Nicolas Ambrosino said he had fun even though he had to chase his snowboard down the hill.

"We enjoyed the experience," Amrosino said. "It was an extreme adventure."

The ski bus has taken two trips already this season, on Jan. 9 and Jan. 16. The trips drew more than 70 students and a crew of adults as chaperones. The final trips of the year will be Feb. 6 and 13.

Part of the draw of the program is the deal Anthony Lakes provides. It costs $102 for three trips to the mountain. The fee includes a bus ride to Anthony Lakes, rentals, lift tickets and lessons. Those with their own boards or skis pay only $72. A regular-priced lift ticket for three trips would cost $93 alone. Rentals, which include lessons, are another $33 a day or $99 for three trips.

"Anthony Lakes has always helped us out," Whipple said. "They give us really good deals. It helps allow some kids go that may not have because of money."

Whipple said there is limited to no space available for the remaining trips of the year, but anyone interested in the program can contact him at 575-4356.

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