Teens take a benefit plunge into icy Ripton pond

RIPTON — On the last weekend of January the students of the North Branch School in Ripton held their 5th Annual Penguin Plunge, an event held to raise money for the school’s financial aid fund.
The students, all of whom are in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, met in Ripton at the home of teachers Tal Birdsey and Rose McVay to brave the icy waters of a frozen pond at the edge of the woods. A hole had been sawed out of the 14 inch thick ice, a bonfire was blazing, and a small wood-fired sauna next to the pond was heated to up to 200 degrees. “I’d been anticipating this moment since I started at North Branch,” said Declan Anderson, a seventh grader from Orwell. “I was nervous because I had never jumped into water that cold,” said Sam Crawford, a seventh grader from Ferrisburgh. “But I was also excited.”
NORTH BRANCH SCHOOL 8th grader Ethan Thompson, does his part for the school’s Penguin Plunge. Photo/Karen Heppel
All the students prepared by getting pledges in support of going under. “And they have to go all the way under,” explained Tal Birdsey, head teacher at the school. “Symbolically, they are going ‘all in’ to support each other and raise money together. Ninety-nine and a half won’t do. We always want 100 percent passion and participation.” Some students elected to go in more than once, motivated by pledges based on the number of times they plunged. Several students went in more than 20 times. Lena Sandler, a ninth grader from Cornwall, went in ten times in 2017. “I wanted to break my record this year and that also means we will raise more money for the school.”
“After my head surfaced it was difficult to breathe for about ten seconds,” said Anderson of Orwell. “But once I made it into the 200 degree sauna, it felt like it never happened. Other friends went in twenty or more times!!! How?!?!”
IRIS WYATT, A 7th grader from Lincoln, is helped out of the water after taking part in North Branch School’s Penguin Plunge fundraiser. Photo/Kaern Heppel
Though it may seem dangerous, no injuries occurred. “We have a doctor here, just in case,” said Birdsey. “The worst pain anyone feels is running from the sauna to the pond in bare feet.” The plungers crowded into the sauna, trying to warm up their inner-cores. Then, when properly warm, they sprinted from sauna, ran up the hill and waded into the icy, black waters to the applause of classmates and parents.
Numerous dogs frolicked on the frozen pond, and one of the dogs tried to jump in, too. “The best part about the Plunge is it’s a way for the whole school to get together. The kids get a little cold, but they are so excited that they forget the cold,” said Birdsey. “Sometimes we have to make them stop going in. But on Monday they’ll have something fun to talk about.”

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