Zheng Kaixing said he's never seen real snow before. He'll get his chance later this year as a student at the Community School in Sun Valley.
Zheng is one of eight new residential program students. He and three others are from China, while the other four are quite familiar with snow and are here to further their athletic ambitions through the Sun Valley Ski Academy.
Planning for the residential program started last year. This summer, the Community School leased the old Bald Mountain Inn building in Warm Springs to provide dormitory-style living for its residential students. The eight students now live at the school's Residence Hall, along with four adult advisors, and attend classes at the Community School.
The Ski Academy students are also spending some of their time training with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, which partnered with the Community School earlier this year to found the academy.
Head of School David Holmes said it's a "great start" for the new residential program. He's hoping for 20-25 students next year, 30-35 the following year and eventually to accommodate 50 students.
"Students from afar has been something we've wanted to do at our school and this is our first big step in that direction," Holmes said. "This is a great start and we've learned a lot of what a residential school should be. I'm really proud of the students and the advisors for making this work.
"It's so heartwarming to see how our residential students have become part of the community. Our students from China bring something new to our school, our community and our valley."
Holmes described Zheng, who goes by the nickname "Terry," as a "math whiz."
Zheng, who comes from southern China near Hong Kong, is enrolled as a junior and wants to become an engineer. He said he learned about the Community School residential program while searching the Internet to find a place to study abroad.
"I wanted to find a better education, so I chose America," he said.
At the Community School, Zheng is studying math, physics, English, writing and English as a second language.
He said he occasionally misses home, but enjoys living at the Residence Hall with the other students and the advisors.
"I've never seen it snow," he said. "I'm going to learn to ski this winter. I think I can do it."
Other students from China are Cheng Minrun, Peng Yu and Zou Minghao. All three are juniors.
Jessie Knori, a 12th -grader from Jackson, Wyo., said she signed up for the residential program to take advantage of the Nordic training available through the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.
"I decided to come up because I wanted to take my skiing to a new level and I wasn't able to do that in Jackson," said Knori, who has skied competitively for three years and has Olympic aspirations. "This area is more skier-friendly. The people here really enjoy Nordic skiing and really help them out."
Knori said she feels at home in the Sun Valley area and enjoys staying at the Residence Hall.
"It's a great group of kids forming it," she said. "So far, it's a nice adjustment. I love this school. I went to the Jackson Hole Community School, so this is a really easy transition."
Other Ski Academy students enrolled in the residential program are Perry Boyle, a 9th-grader from Darien, Conn., Connor Smith, an 11th-grader from Boise, and Margaret Pope, a 12th-grader from McCall.
Jessica Wasilewski, director of residential life at the Residence Hall, said the students stay busy when not in school or doing homework, going on frequent outings and receiving other students and parents as guests.
"We keep them busy on the weekends and other students are welcome to join us," she said. "It's more like a group family situation rather than an institutional situation. Right now they're all living together, eating together and doing chores together. It's been great. It works out really well. The kids get along great.
"They're just like every other Community School student, other than they don't go home at night."
Terry Smith: email@example.com