"Gap Year" Program Kicks Off in Whitefish - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

"Gap Year" Program Kicks Off in Whitefish

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WHITEFISH -

Traditionally students graduate high school at the end of spring and some choose to go straight to college the following fall.

A new trend known as a gap year is encouraging students to take a break between the two to better understand what they want.

"The gap year certainly seems to be a really successful choice for a lot of people, I mean 18, when you're coming out of high school, some people are super ready to get more involved in academics but other people I think need to figure out what they're doing and why they want to go to college because there's more to just finishing high school and jumping right into college,” said student Quinlan Conroy.

A new program in Whitefish is offering a hybrid of the two options.

"At Ridge we're providing a platform and a place for them to continue some college credits, learn life skills and then focus on the things that they love as well. So it's a bit of as break from the traditional academic grind but we still have that academic component,” said founder Billy O'Donnell.

The four month semester began this week and combines winter sports with practical skills as well as actual college courses.

"While students at ridge academy do spend a large portion of their day up at the mountain we're told told the focus on academics makes this program much more than just a ski vacation."

"We have a three credit University of Montana course that we teach in glaciers, snow science, mountains and geology as being able to offer online courses that our academic coordinator and tutors help oversee,” O'Donnell said.

A winter sports program at heart, Ridge Academy also teaches students practical skills like avalanche safety.

"We have a Level 1 avalanche course the student athletes take and we offer a wilderness first aid course where they can get skills in the back country and learn how to do that."

O'Donnell expects gap year programs to become more popular in the united states over the next few years.

"The gap year segment we definitely believe is growing quite a bit and we want to be a part of it and at the forefront,” O'Donnell said.

Ridge Academy has five students enrolled this semester and O'Donnell hopes to grow that to about 30 in the next few years.

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