“What I was afraid of most is running into a moose,” commented blind sled dog racer, Rachael Scdoris, who gave the commencement address to the girls at the Academy at Sisters. Rachael completed the famous Iditarod 1,000 mile trek across Alaska with her dogs, often encountering rough terrain and difficult conditions.
“The worst conditions were minus 80 degrees. I had to flip my sled over and crawl in with the dogs to survive it. “
Rachael’s clear message to the graduates: do not give up, believe that you can do it, and pursue your dreams. “I hate when people tell me that a blind girl can’t do something, it just makes me want to do it even more.”
“She’s amazing,” commented one of the students who attended the ceremony. “I would be so scared to be in the middle of Alaska with just a dog sled team.”
Rachael was born with Congenital Achromatopsia, a rare vision disorder causing near sightedness, far sightedness and colorblindness. Rachael’s 2006 Iditarod campaign raised more than $100,000 in donations to the United States Association of Blind Association for programs supporting participation opportunities for other visually impaired athletes.
Rachael has also been formally honored by various organizations including the Women’s Sports Foundation, Oregon Commission for the Blind, The Goodwill Industries, The Foundation Fighting Blindness, National Association of Girls and Women in Sport, The Perkins School for the Blind, and nominated for an ESPN ESPY award, and the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s “Above and Beyond” Award. In 2002, Rachael was selected by the USOC to carry the torch to the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. In 2006, Rachael was also honored by Glamour Magazine as one of their Women of the Year.
Rachael was raised in Bend, Oregon, not far from the Academy at Sisters, and lives on a ranch with over a 100 dogs who train regularly across the desert terrain.
The commencement address was for the high school and middle school graduates at the Academy at Sisters. Academics are an integral part of the holistic model implemented by Academy at Sisters, in which the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health of each student is addressed. The Academy boasts a strong academic focus that includes traditional classes combined with non- traditional approaches to learning.
“With small class sizes, we can provide individualized and experiential approaches which I like to think of as authentic learning,” commented Rick Buening, the Academic Director for the Learning Center. “Students also work on service learning projects which includes partnering with the local Habitat for Humanity.”
This year, the Learning Center has also offered two focus areas: a Healthy Choices program which motivated students to eat better, exercise, and understand the effect that a negative body image can have on their self esteem; and an Entrepreneurial program which allowed the girls to meet a variety of successful business people from the Bend community.
With Academy at Sisters’ fully accredited and innovative approach to education, the students continue to excel in the traditional math, writing and reading curriculums. Over a year, girls on average have jumped 2 grade levels in Writing, 4.2 grade levels in Math, and 2.3 grade levels in Reading. (The scores are based on WIAT testing for AAS students in all subject areas in addition to STAR Reading and Math assessments).
The Academy at Sisters is a therapeutic boarding school for girls between the ages of 13-18. For more information about our program, visit us at www.academyatsisters.org.