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Ski Coach Uses Flashcards to Bridge Language Gap


The Nordic skiing coach  at Jackson Hole High School and his assistants were having trouble communicating with the two freshmen members from Mexico City, who spoke almost no English.

Bill Neal, a volunteer who helps with the team, came up with the idea of laminated flashcards and the problem was solved. About two dozen key terms for Nordic skiing have been translated from English to Spanish for the cards.

Coach Walt Berling doesn’t need to look up the phrase he uses the most: — mas rapido – for “faster.”.

“That’s probably my favorite,” he said.

The two new students _ Erick Ortiz and Israel Garcia. both 15, moved to Jackson from Mexico City late last summer and are in the high school’s English Language Learner’s program.

For Berling, who has coached at Jackson Hole High for 22 years, the language barrier is a first.

Garcia said it has not hindered practice.

“The coaches use body language and signs,” he said.

Ortiz and Garcia didn’t know each other  before coming to Jackson. However, they shared classes and soon decided they wanted to join the school’s Nordic team.

Neither had ever seen snow before moving to Jackson.

“I didn’t think it (the snow) was going to be that great,” Ortiz said through a translator at the school. “But it was better than what I expected.”

While most Latinos in the community are passionate about soccer or basketball, Ortiz and Garcia chose skiing, because they “just wanted to know what it  was all about,” Ortiz said. They didn’t even have the right clothes or equipment, but faculty and community members donated items.

And now, Garcia and Ortiz are the first Latino Nordic skiers Berling has coached, and he also believes they are the first in the state. Garcia and Ortiz seem oblivious to the trend they are setting, or to the fact that they soon could become role models for  younger Latinos.

“They’re trying to get immersed in the Jackson Hole culture,” said Liliana Treick, a registrar at Jackson Hole High School who is fluent in Spanish and works with Garcia and Ortiz.

“Most of my kids are involved in soccer,” she said. “But (Garcia and Ortiz) love skiing and want to continue with the sport. I think it’s outstanding they can show their classmates that there are opportunities here for them like anyone else.”

The duo has yet to be a factor so far this season for the Broncs as they continue to pick up the sport. But each fared well recently at the Betty Woolsey Classic on Dec. 27. Ortiz finished fifth in the eight-man 5-k with a time of 31:52, while Garcia was seventh at 35:22.

Berling, meanwhile, is also “picking up some words” in Spanish, he said.

“Sometimes, I just make stuff up,” he adds. “But they’re good, smart kids and are picking stuff up.”

Summary: Leaders in the Denver school district are upset that Latinos were not considered before a finalist for superintendent was chosen

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