Ropes course takes participants to new heights

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Aug. 24, 2011
South Windsor High School psychologist Michelle Wardwell takes her first step on the high-elevation ropes course. Photos by Martha Marteney.
South Windsor High School psychologist Michelle Wardwell takes her first step on the high-elevation ropes course. Photos by Martha Marteney.

Tucked into the wooded area of Nevers Road Park, the South Windsor Team Building and Leadership Center features the town’s ropes course, which is used to develop communication skills among the course participants.

“I think it’s a really powerful - and empowering - experience,” said South Windsor High School Athletic Director Chris Wanner.

Several SWHS staff members, along with staff from area towns and school districts, recently participated in a week-long program to become certified to lead a class on the ropes course.

The course was led by Chuck Bolesh of High 5 Adventure Education, based in Brattleboro, Vt. “They have fun doing it,” said Bolesh about the participants. “We play, but there’s a reason for it. People who play together function well together.”

Evan Fable is an art teacher at SWHS and a certified facilitator for the ropes course. “It’s great to do,” said Fable. “It applies to the classroom and getting kids involved outside the classroom.” He also found that by working with the kids on the ropes course, he developed bonds with a whole different group of kids than he might meet in his classroom.

“The challenge is the growth,” said Josh Kraus, a SWHS science teacher. “It’s interesting to see where you need to grow sometimes.” Through progressive skill-building exercises, the individuals not only develop confidence in themselves, but also form trust with the other participants.

“Maybe that’s what this whole course is about,” said Jen Bolduc, a SWHS physical education and health teacher. She was referring not only to trusting others to help her through the high elevation exercises, but also to believing that she was capable of the belaying exercises. The course is based on “Challenge by Choice” concept, so that each individual decides on his or her level of participation.

For Michelle Wardwell, who recently moved as school psychologist from Timothy Edwards Middle School to SWHS, it was a great way to meet some of her new co-workers. After being both the belayer - or the person holding the rope to secure the participant on the high elevation - and the person walking the wires two stories in the air, she said, “It felt safe.” The participants had worked together for only three days before the high-elevation belay exercise.

“It’s in the P.E. curriculum as a class course,” noted Wanner, explaining that the class begins in the gym with team-building exercises, then graduates to the ropes course for the lower-elevation exercises. The class finishes with the high-elevation work.

The ropes course is also routinely used by the Freshmen Learning Communities, as well as the incoming sixth-graders. Human Services school outreach coordinator Kathy Reed looks forward to being able to now help the sixth-graders on the ropes course, as the students learn ways to team-build, and be open and willing to try new adventures. “In any setting,” said Reed, “that’s a good thing.”

“I’m hoping coaches will use it to develop team dynamics,” added Wanner. She noted that last year the girls’ field hockey team and the football team used the ropes course.

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