Kids are climbing the walls

Thanks to fundraising, elementary schools put rock climbing into PE curriculum

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On Thursday morning, fifth-graders at Soda Creek Elementary pulled, stepped and hefted their way along a 60-foot-long traverse rock-climbing wall. They climbed quickly, using their hands and feet. They looked for their next moves while trying not to fall to the mats below.

"This is only our second week doing this. Already, everyone's loving it," fifth-grader Kali Morris said about climbing on the wall.

Traverse climbing walls allow students to climb sideways, but only up to 8 feet high, so ropes are not required. The walls teach the skills, fitness and knowledge that are standards for physical education in Colorado.

Traverse rock-climbing walls were built at Soda Creek Elementary and at Strawberry Park Elementary last year with the help of local and corporate sponsors, grants and money from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board.

"I think it's really cool, because we get to climb and we get to, like, get our feet and hands moving," fifth-grader Azucena Rodriguez said.

Fifth-grader Erika Kipfer said it's challenging, but rewarding.

"You don't want to fall off, because you're really determined to reach the end," she said.

"And when you reach the end, you get to go free climb."

Devin Dummit said he likes to climb because it feels free, almost like you're going to fall down.

First-graders at Strawberry Park Elementary who had just finished physical education class Wednesday morning had a lot to say about the wall, too.

"I know that my hands can actually stay on it and they actually, like, hurt," first-grader Paula Cooper said. "It feels like they're going to fall off."

Cooper said she also liked that handholds came in a rainbow of colors.

"It's amazing when people stay on," Kayla Haggerty said.

While the students enjoy the climb, they probably aren't thinking of all the ways it benefits them.

For example, one skill students need to learn is transferring their weight from hands to feet, said Bo Yennie, PE instructor at Strawberry Park Elementary. Rock climbing is a good way to teach that.

Students develop muscular strength and muscular endurance and learn a new activity while cooperating and solving problems.

Besides all that, the idea of rock climbing is motivation in itself.

"When they first see the wall, their eyes bulge out ... and they just want to go on it," Yennie said.

Chris Adams, PE teacher at Soda Creek Elementary, said he always has wanted to incorporate a safe recreational adventure sport in his activities.

He and Yennie went to a conference a couple of years ago and heard from other P.E. instructors who were excited about the benefits of traverse rock-climbing walls.

It's part of a movement towards a "new P.E.," which trades some of the traditional activities such as dodgeball, for fun, non-threatening, non-elimination activities they can do outside of the classroom, Adams said.

With a long traverse rock-climbing wall, there is very little waiting time -- almost every student can climb at the same time.

And because Steamboat Springs Middle School has a vertical climbing wall, the traverse walls are good preparation for elementary students.

The biggest hurdle to building the walls was the cost. At $10,000 per wall, Adams and Yennie had a lot of fundraising to do.

They said they were thankful for the number of sponsors who made the walls possible, including gifts of $5,000 for each wall from the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board.

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