The Challenge Course II class put the “education” in “outdoor education” this week. Recently, we hosted 18 Craftsbury Academy fifth- and sixth-graders on our low challenge course, and Sterling College students—all of them upper-level Outdoor Education majors—worked on group management, risk management, facilitation, intervention, and assessment.

First, Zak Whitaker gathered the Craftsbury Academy youngsters in a circle. He had them go around and share their names and an animal superpower they’d like to have for two hours. Seth Fineman then talked them through a brief full value contract for the day. A full value contract is the process in which a group agrees to find positive value in the efforts of its members. It ensures that as individuals succeed, the group succeeds. After that, Gerry Holmes got everyone moving with a rowdy, tail-snatching version of “Everybody’s It!”

The class then moved into smaller groups to work on problem-solving initiatives, such as: how are you going to get everyone safely across the piranha-infested peanut butter pit without spilling the nitro? We had the kids working on listening to each other, thinking the problem through, trying and evaluating ideas, and perhaps most importantly, asking for and receiving help and support from each other.

This was our first program with Craftsbury Academy students of the semester. In our debrief, we’ll delve into what it really means to bring full value to an experience, what interventions we can employ to help struggling participants, and what we observed in terms of group functioning. Next up: evaluating the group’s readiness for getting onto the high elements, and how to structure that experience.

Sterling students learn so much with this program, including thinking on their feet, cultivating rapport with a wide range of attitudes and personalities, managing conflict, public speaking, and boundary-setting. Most importantly, of course, they learn how to play, laugh, and have fun!

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