Explore SKIES, explore world of possibilities

By Jennifer Clampet
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs Office

From cattle rustling to being a professional ballerina, SKIES Unlimited program instructors are bringing a world of instruction to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden youths.

Erika Bettencourt was a professional dancer. Kathy Wissel grew up on a ranch in Colorado. So how did they end up in Germany teaching children the basics of their crafts?

Each found a niche within SKIES Unlimited, a program that offers activities, camps and classes for Army children and youth. The Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills program is designed to give youth access to programs that expand their knowledge and encourages exploration of new subjects.

“That’s what we’re trying to instill in kids,” said Laurie Schmitt, instructional program specialist with the Wiesbaden Child, Youth and School Services. “There’s more to life than just video games and TV.”

Schmitt is looking for interesting and unusual subject matter teachers for the coming sessions of SKIES in Wiesbaden. Think astronomy or tennis, rock climbing or skateboarding. Instructors don’t need higher degrees in order to teach. They just need a passion, experience, a commitment to education and a knack for working with children.

“You’d be amazed how much they learn,” said Wissel of her horseback riding students who usually range in age from 5 to 10 years old. “They change. I think they become happier after the classes. They learn about the animals, and they learn to have a friend.”

Wissel has more than 60 years of experience working with horses. Her days were spent growing up with horses — plowing, riding and checking the cattle. Wissel, a retired program analyst with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, moved to Germany in 1978. In the last three decades, Wissel has built up her horse riding passion in Germany. She owns 22 horses which are stabled in Steinbach and a Western riding club.

In her six-week horseback riding class for SKIES, Wissel teaches children how to groom, feed and ride a horse.

“It’s all about the enjoyment of watching the children develop and having fun with the horses,” said Wissel.

At age 19, Bettencourt was a professional dancer. She had the training, the technique and the drive to pose her body in ways that takes years of dedication to perfect.

Now a mother of two young daughters, she passes that love for dance onto the younger generations of hopeful ballerinas.

A small girl twirled around in her sparkling blue top and princess skirt as Bettencourt gave reminders about princess behavior and curtsying during a Fairytale Camp.

“I think the ability to just get on stage and do something like (dance) is definitely a confidence-boosting activity,” said Bettencourt.

Wissel and Bettencourt praised the SKIES program and Schmitt for the opportunity to teach.

“(Laurie Schmitt) walked me through the process and it was easier than I thought,” said Bettencourt who also noted the pay was good and the scheduling of classes made it easy for her to spend time with family and still keep up with classes.

Schmitt said the most intimidating part of becoming a SKIES instructor is taking the first steps in the recruitment process. The instructor requirements including resume, class proposal, background check, CPR certification and insurance coverage are available online at www.armygermany.com by clicking on SKIES Unlimited under the USAG Wiesbaden facilities link.

Aside from those requirements, Schmitt provided the following characteristics she looks for in a SKIES instructor: self motivation, good people and organization skills, ability to plan own curriculum and schedule, interest in working and interacting with children and master-level knowledge of the subject being taught.

“It’s about wanting to hand down talent to a younger generation,” said Schmitt.