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Riding toward their futures

Mount Prospect Academy kids bring home trophy from NYPUM rodeo

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by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers

The Mount Prospect Academy team leaders pose with the sportsmanship trophy the NYPUM team won at the recent rodeo in New York. Left to right, Dan Burk, Mike McLaughlin and Pat Rises. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
September 23, 2021
RUMNEY — It's about a lot more than just riding dirt bikes.

Just ask any of the kids involved in the Mount Prospect Academy NYPUM program and they will tell you.

NYPUM stands for National Youth Program Using Minibikes, sponsored by the American Honda Motor Company and it gets students involved in all aspects of the bikes while also focusing on the schoolwork that they need to do to earn that time with the bikes.

Mount Prospect Academy Head of Schools Jay Marshall noted that in 2018, teacher Dan Burk came to him with the idea of taking part in the NYPUM program, something he had seen work wonders for kids at a school he worked at in Connecticut. At that time, there was no other NYPUM program in New Hampshire, but research was done, Mount Prospect Academy applied and in early 2019 became the first program in New Hampshire.

And, just a few short years later, the Mount Prospect Academy NYPUM program came home with the Perpetual Team Sportsmanship Trophy from the rodeo competition in Voorheesville, N.Y.

"It's extra special to bring the sportsmanship trophy here, it's never been to New Hampshire before now," Marshall said.

Burk noted that the trophy is voted on by other participants in the rodeo and to receive it is a pretty high honor.

"In the NYPUM world, that's the big deal, they treat it like the Stanley Cup," Burk said, noting the trophy will now reside at Mount Prospect Academy for the year. "They (team members) were all really excited, you would've thought they won the Super Bowl."

And for many of the kids at Mount Prospect Academy, the chance to be a part of a team is a new thing, something they are learning about as they make their way through the school's programs.

The mission of Mount Prospect Academy is to provide a caring safe therapeutic environment where students have the opportunity to grow and acquire the skills they need to reach their educational and social potential. They aim to develop trusting relationships with students and facilitate experiences that promote their ability to self-regulate, manage thoughts and feelings and develop feelings of safety, confidence and competency.

"The kids have had difficulties that have prevented them from being a consistent part of teams," Marshall said. "And something we've been impressed with is the level of camaraderie of the students who are participating."

Burk pointed out that the time on the bikes is earned, so there is motivation for the kids to do their academic work in order to get on the bikes.

"They earn their riding time," Burk said. "It's a way of getting them to build skills they need, to take responsibility for their actions and to be able to do what they want to do.

"We build a real team environment here and treat it as a team," he continued. "They're looking out for the other guy, that helps them think about others, not just themselves."

Additionally, because using trails is a privilege, the kids also perform a lot of community service. They have done a lot of work in the Hopkinton-Everett trail system, located in the communities of Dunbarton and Weare and have also done work with the Merrimack Valley Trail Riders and the Mount Moosilaukee ATV Club. The Merrimack Valley Trail Riders recently made a nice donation to the program as a thank you for the work that the kids did.

"We use it, we need to steward it and care for it," Marshall said of the philosophy behind the community service. "We're part of the community and we need to be responsible."

Burk notes that when he came to Mount Prospect Academy, he saw a lot of value in the NYPUM program and thought it would be a good fit for his new employer and he credited MPA with being receptive to the "outside the box thinking," and he is happy that it has been working.

"The behavior issues, we see go away or lessen once they get into this program," Burk said. "It's giving them skills and they're consistently working on those skills."

He noted that some kids who have been part of the program a little longer, also get moved into junior leader roles, which gives them added responsibility and leadership opportunities.

"I am happy they gave me a chance to be a junior leader," said one of the program participants. "I like helping people, so it feels great."

He pointed out that the group almost feels like a family and NYPUM has helped him solidify relationships with other kids and the faculty at MPA.

"We have strong bonds, we have learned to be here for each other at all times," he continued. "No matter what, we always have this connection."

At the rodeo event, which featured teams from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, sportsmanship is a big deal, but it is also a chance for the kids to interact with other kids, which in and of itself is a learning experience. The rodeo is essentially a skills competition, where riders show off what they've learned and watch others demonstrate their skills.

"One of their favorite parts was being able to hang out with other kids," Burk noted, saying that the kids relayed to him that they felt "like a normal kid again."

The bikes are donated by the American Honda Motor Company and Mount Prospect Academy pays dues to NYPUM and insurance. MPA has also worked with Freedom Cycle out of Concord, which puts together the bikes when they are shipped and also offers discounts on parts and gear.

However, it's up to the kids to take care of the bikes. On a recent morning they were preparing for a riding trip and were carefully removing the bikes from the garage, checking them for any issues and loading them on to trailers, making sure they were secure and in place for the trip.

"Another huge part of this is it teaches responsibility," Burk said. "And it instills a love of the outdoors and a love of sports."

One NYPUM participant noted that he really enjoys riding the bikes and taking care of them and also getting a chance to show newcomers the ropes. He also liked the way that his group worked as a team at the rodeo and was impressed by how nice everyone there was to him and his teammates.

Another participant noted that it was great getting the chance to be able to hang out with other kids and ride dirt bikes and also noted that it is awesome getting to take care of the bikes so they are ready to ride.

And the aforementioned junior leader noted that it is an awesome feeling being part of the NYPUM program.

"It's nice to be able to watch kids making progress after being here a while," he said.

Mount Prospect Academy is an alliance of non-profit academic and behavioral health companies that operate throughout New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. Their continuum of care model offers support to children and families of all ages. Their spectrum consists of day school educational services, in-home community-based services, short term shelter care, short term assessment, therapeutic residential care, enhanced residential treatment, sub-acute care and enhanced sub acute care. More information on their work can be found at mountprospectacademy.org.

NYPUM is where the youth of America can realize their full potential through mentorship, team building and self development. All while learning the skills to enjoy safe and exciting off-road riding. More information on their programs can be found at nypum.org.

"It isn't just about riding dirt bikes," said the MPA junior leader. "It's about helping us for our future."

Sports Editor Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or josh@salmonpress.news.

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