EDEN -- Margarita Palma was excited and nervous about her first ski adventure, shared with more than three dozen other sixth-graders from Ogden's Dee Elementary School.
The 40 students, not one with any previous ski experience, were invited to Wolf Mountain ski resort Thursday for hours of fun, first in ski school, then trying their skills on snowboards and skis down a beginners' slope.
Margarita, 12, was making steady progress when she felt herself slip. She fell into the powdery snow and immediately took off her equipment and retreated to a bench to sit down.
But within a few minutes, she was back on her feet, and the slopes.
"I got frustrated, and I wanted to stop trying," Margarita said. "Then I decided to try again, and I did it. I felt proud of myself that I never gave up."
That's a theme at Dee Elementary, which pulled itself back up after standardized end-of-level tests marked it as the lowest-scoring elementary school in Utah.
"At Dee Elementary school, our attitude is 'We will make it happen,' said Principal Sondra Jolovich-Motes -- Mrs. J.M. to her young charges. " 'With great effort we will achieve great success.' We repeat that every morning."
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell showed up to congratulate students and cheer on their efforts.
"Dee has made some huge strides in the last few years, due to hard work by the teachers and the students," Caldwell said. "This is a great gesture from Wolf Mountain, to give the kids this opportunity."
Ken Crawford, director of the Ogden School District nutrition program, also came to support the kids.
"They improved their test levels 34 percentage points," Crawford said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. They have the opportunity to test themselves and experience a new opportunity in life.
"We hope this will reinforce to them that they set goals and they achieved them. And when you achieve, the world opens up to you. We hope the students will see that this opportunity parallels life."
Dee Elementary is an inner city school, at which 56 percent of the population speaks English as a second language. Many of the students wear hoodies as winter coats, Jolovich-Motes said.
The warm clothing students wore Thursday was collected in a coat drive sponsored by the YMCA of Northern Utah. Other donations included mittens, gloves, socks, knit hats and snow pants. Wolf Creek donated sunglasses, along with instruction and use of the facilities. Among the other event sponsors was the Ogden Valley Winter Sports Foundation.
Sue Munson, Wolf Creek marketing director, said she sees children build their confidence through skiing every day.
"It's fun to watch," Munson said. "Children start out hesitant, and by the end of the day they are skiers, in their own mind. And that confidence absolutely transfers to other parts of life."
Melisa Harrison, of the Ogden Valley Winter Sports Foundation, said her informal survey of the Dee students revealed they were happy to be there.
"They all said they would rather be here than in school," she said, laughing. "I'm hearing no complaints and seeing all smiles."
Instructors worked with the students, teaching them how to move forward, how to stop, how to descend slowly on a steeper slope and how to fall without hurting themselves. Almost every student fell at least once, but all laughed and got back up for another try."
AnnaMary Valesques, 12, removed her leg brace to ski. She has worn it since hip surgery, about a year ago.
"I was sort of scared," she said, from her spot on the gentlest slope. "But I thought it would be fun, and this is awesome."
Jolovich-Motes said she couldn't be prouder of her students. She is proud of the whole school for raising test scores, she said, but on Thursday she was especially proud of her sixth-graders, who overcame their fear to conquer the slopes.
"They are an inspiration to me, for setting goals, for staying with it, for helping each other, and for doing a great job."