Playground Adventure of an Affirming Nature 2

Blake Greco made the steep, dusty climb up the hill and across the wooden platform. Standing at the edge looking down at the crowd far below—fully harnessed, helmeted and safety-checked—he took a deep breath and made that brave first step. There’s truly no going back once you begin flying on a zip line. He soared above the junipers and over the heads of his cheering 7th grade class. At the end of the line, he slowed to a stop and was guided back by his classmates to the ladder drop-off point. On solid ground again, he was shaking from head to toe, yet also grinning from ear to ear.

Twenty-eight 7th graders make their speedy descent that day at Tumalo Community School. The zip line is located parallel to Highway 20 on the nature-scaped playground beyond the schoolyard fence.

A Cool School

Imagine zip-lining at school. Plus, ten other high and low ropes course adventures are offered to Tumalo Community School students in the 3rd through 8th grades, increasing in difficulty as they age. These range from balance beams and trust falls to high wire walks.

Corrie Hopper deserves to win the “Coolest PE Teacher Ever” award for having taken over the management and upkeep of the program. The original instructor, Guy Millington, now works at Bend’s Ridgeview High School. For Hopper, it began seven years ago after she took her own scary leap by attending a Project Adventure certification program in Massachusetts. There she was—a woman with a history of being very uncomfortable with heights—learning about high ropes courses and zip lines. Project Adventure is affiliated with the Association for Experiential Education and the Association for Challenge Course Technology. Hopper returns every three years to renew her certification.
“I found something within myself that I didn’t know was there when I went through that training,” says Hopper. “You realize, oh my goodness! Look what I’m capable of!”

Now she gets to offer that opportunity to her students, thus allowing them to overcome their fears early in life.

Fighting Your Fears

Everyone has fought their fears at some point in their life. Maybe it was the time you inched your way to the end of the diving board—unsure of your footing—as the fiberglass plank began to bend and bounce. Or, it might have been the first time you stood on stage during the school play, hoping beyond all hope that the words you’d carefully memorized would find their way to the audience. The worst of it was knowing that EVERYONE was watching. But you did it. Humbled, humiliated or victorious, you did it and no one can take that away from you.

Now imagine that instead of the mocking and judging you faced in your nightmarish version of the big event, you were cheered and encouraged by your peers. All of your peers. And, they called you by name and offered support before, during and after your big leap.

That’s how it is for these students at Tumalo Community School.

First-timer Brianni Edge had a hard time mustering up the courage to step off the platform. So, Hopper picks up the walkie-talkie and lets the team below know early cheers of encouragement are needed.

“Let’s go Brianni, let’s go!” calls out a lone voice from the waiting area at the top. It’s Victoria Hansen, who’s ready for her ride. Soon the cheers rise up from the crowd below and Edge takes that big step.

“It’s an accomplishment to do something you’re scared of,” says Emma Becker.

Like Greco and Hansen, this is her second trip. The zip line is available to students beginning in the 6th grade.

“It’s cool and unique [to have a high ropes program at school],” adds Greco. “You get a chance to do something others don’t.”

Parents Approve!

JoAnn Lay is the school Librarian and parent of two students who’ve been through the adventure program. Parents were offered the opportunity to try the wire walk experience known as the Grapevine –one of the high ropes elements— and Lay felt it had a profound effect on her, instilling a confidence she’d not felt before.

“I came away feeling as though I could face anything after that,” Lay explains. “And my kids were there to see.”

Unfortunately, the program is costly to maintain. Hopper must renew her certification regularly and the equipment and upkeep of the course are costly. Those interested in helping should contact the school directly.

Hopper contends, “the best part of the job is hearing those cheers.”