Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dropping in with Victoria Roper

Express Staff Writer

Victoria Roper Photo by Tony Evans

Victoria Roper attended Harvard University at the height of the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. She followed the trends of the times, traveled the world and began a lifelong exploration of yoga.

She later learned American Sign Language and in 1984, while working at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in Gooding, won the Idaho Teacher of the Year award.

"At that time the Idaho House of Representatives was about as friendly toward education as it is today," she says.

Roper moved to the Wood River Valley in 2006 to teach social studies and special education at the Silver Creek Alternative School under Barge Levy. Today, she works for the Lee Pesky Learning Center in Ketchum.

"I missed Woodstock," she laments. "I would have loved to have been there."

Roper went instead to Peru, and later, to socialist President Salvador Allende's Chile, pursuing a degree in Romance languages and literature. Allende's presidency, from 1970-1973, was marked by land redistribution and increased welfare services for the poor.

Roper was inspired by the promise of these political events in Chile, yet found later that the U.S. government was working in opposition to Allende. It opened her eyes to the political realities during the Cold War.

"Henry Kissinger said Allende was more dangerous than Castro in Cuba because he was democratically elected," she says.

It ended with his death in 1973 during a military coup.

Roper has an enthusiastic demeanor. Her expressive face may reflect the many years she has spent communicating with deaf students before moving to the valley.

"Part of the grammar of sign language is in the face," she explains, moving her eyebrows up to ask a question, or tightening her smile to express distaste, all the while gesturing fluidly in American Sign Language, one of three languages she "speaks" well.

"ASL poetry is beautiful," she says.

Cambridge, Mass., in 1969 was a far cry from Roper's hometown of Burley, Idaho, where her grandfather opened Roper's Clothing Store in 1912. She and her brother John attended Harvard together. The campus was in the throes of change.

"When I got there, we had parietal hours and curfews. Then suddenly there was nude swimming and coed houses. Everything was breaking up."

Students protesting the Vietnam War took over the University Hall. Some time later, Roper joined friends at an experimental party one evening on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif. As the sun set, she felt the world vibrate.

"It was like the whole world was doing pranayama [yogic breathing] together," she recalls.

Roper has been in recovery from addiction for 31 years, she says. One of the reasons she came to the Wood River Valley was to take advantage of what she calls the "recovery community."

She was introduced to yoga by her brother at Harvard and has practiced ardently since long before she became sober.

"I made some mistakes in the beginning because I had to learn from books. There were no videos," she says.

Roper now teaches yoga at the Hailey yoga center, to Spanish-language speakers and occasionally to deaf students.

"It's hard to teach yoga to the deaf, because I have to use my hands to communicate, but also to support myself in a pose."

Roper earned two master's degrees from the University of Idaho, and worked for many years as a teacher, staff instructor, outreach director and principal at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind.

"It was insane to put blind and deaf kids together because they can't communicate at all with one another," she says. "The hard-of-hearing kids act as translators between the two groups."

Roper and her former husband took training at Boys Town, a Catholic home for troubled youth in Omaha, Neb., and put their lessons to work at Harbor House, a community-based treatment center in Twin Falls. She has also worked at the Walker Center, a treatment center for addiction in Gooding. She holds a seat on the board of the Southern Idaho Learning Center.

"Gooding is a very open-minded place," she says. "So is the Wood River Valley. We had some really gifted children walk through the doors at the Silver Creek Alternative School. They were usually on their last chance in the public school system."

Roper says her training in working with challenged students, or "exceptionalities" as she calls them, has led to the "social thinking" approach to learning practiced at the Lee Pesky Learning Center.

While Roper long ago said goodbye to her addictions, she continues to explore through yoga the experience of "oneness" she encountered in her youth on a beach in California.

"As Richard Rosen says, 'Duality is a dead end.' Oneness brings us to infinity.

"My Dharma is to help each other recognize that oneness."

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