Helping High: Students make tracks to success through Bogus Basin

BOISE - For many Treasure Valley students, summer is a welcomed relief after a long, academic year.

But for some, it's a repeat break from what's already been a year of absences or drop-outs.

Why have they missed class?

When you hear what these students have been through, you'll understand why school is not only an after-thought, but at times, almost impossible to attend.

But one teacher is hoping to change that.

And his classroom recruitment goes on whether the snow flies or the grass grows.

We caught up with Frank Church social studies teacher Jess Hawley just before summer break.

A writing lesson for students became an exercise in the past versus the present.

"and all the things they had to do to survive and to keep their families alive," said one student reading from his work.

Mr. Hawley has a wall of words to help students write better.

Many are a metaphor between history and present life: pessimistic, petrified, destructive, detached.

Nearly every student in Mr. Hawley's class has either dropped out, or been kicked out of, another school.

Almost one in three is homeless.

"I have the fact that my mom's on disability, so I stress about her a lot to make sure she's okay," said Frank Church High School Junior Mariah Price. "When I'm not home, it freaks me out because I don't trust anyone else to take care of her other than me."

"I just really have a lot to worry about with my brothers," said Frank Church High School Freshman Sadie Porras. "One's going to prison. And the other one's in DJC."

It's hard to focus on classwork when basics at home aren't being met.

Or there's no home at all.

So Mr. Hawley stocks necessities like food, shampoo, blankets and clothing.

But between the socks and shirts, you'll also find skateboards and snowboards.

"When I'm on the chairlift, I'm talking to them about college, when I'm in the classroom I'm talking to them about being on the chairlift," Hr. Hawley said. "Like it just builds a solid relationship. It just furthers our relationship to the next level so they put more value on everything that I'm saying in the classroom."

Mr. Hawley's program is called Helping High.

Now in its fifth year, the program offers students incentives for staying in school and getting good grades. One reward happens in cooperation Bogus Basin and includes a free day of skiing or snowboarding.

Mr. Hawley has put 100 students through the Bogus Basin program.

Students say it's been an eye-opening experience going skiing for the first time.

"Oh it was pretty bad, I fell so many times," Porras said. "I got hit by board, I ate snow, I got snow in my goggles, my shirt."

But between the yard sales and face plants, something happened of mogul proportions.

"It opened my eyes that some people are rooting for you," Frank Church student Jack Miller said. "There are people out there, like you know, you can do this."

Price has climbed this education mountain and now she's looking for the next challenge.

"Since I've been in this program and kept up my grades, I've already got four letters from four different universities just in the last eight months I've been here," she said.

And for Hawley, therein lies the lesson: balancing the pressures of life is no doubt a slippery slope.

"All the big picture stuff that I teach them about the importance of education, how central it is for them to stay in school and graduate, it helps them form positive associations with the school in general," Hawley said.

Do the students fully get it?

Just ask self-proclaimed powderhound Jack Miller.

"Can't wait till next winter!" he said.

So what happens while the students are on summer break?

Mr. Hawley has that covered.

Students can't let their grades drop, because the following academic year, a season's pass weighs in the balance.

May local businesses, churches and other donors make this program happen.

If you'd like to help out, go to: and designate Helping High/Hawley.

You can also mail a check made out to Helping High, to Frank Church High School, 8051 West Salt Creek Ct. 83709 Attention: Jess Hawley.

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