Building up well-rounded, confident students both in and outside the classroom is a school-wide commitment for teachers and staff at Charlotte Latin School.
They’re working to find innovative ways to incorporate hands-on, practical learning activities, and Head of Middle School Debbie Lamm had just the vision – the answer to the school’s experiential learning needs.
Lamm’s 20-year vision for an outdoor learning course, joined with the support from various other faculty members and Charlotte Latin School alumna Ann Brock, was the drive that helped the school develop an 18-element low team challenge course on the school’s South Campus.
“It really came out of our experiential goal for kids to nurture their creativity and passion for learning,” Lamm said. “It’s a great way to get at educating the whole student.”
The course is a component of the school’s Hawks Quest program, which was created to provide experiential education opportunities indoors and outdoors with both small and large groups. The low team challenge course is a one-of-a-kind design that takes advantage of a flood plain area on the school’s South Campus. Comprised of various challenges featuring structures made of telephone poles, wire cables and wooden platforms, the course blends into the natural wooded terrain that previously only served as the school’s cross-country course.
Now, the school is using the space to help teach students and adults alike about team building, communication, trust, integrity, responsibility, consensus building, problem solving and conflict resolution, Brock, also the school’s Hawks Quest coordinator, said. Brock has worked as the challenge course facilitator with Venture at University of North Carolina at Charlotte since 2006 and also is active with the North Carolina Outward Bound School.
Outdoor education is her specialty, and she’s excited to incorporate the Hawks Quest program and challenge course into the school’s curriculum.
The curriculum follows the philosophy of “do, reflect, apply,” Brock said, starting with the act of experiential learning on the challenge course or other hands-on activities in the classroom. Seventh-grade students will be the first group of students to try out the course Sept. 13, a Friday, where they will first be introduced to the woods, Brock said. Over the course of the year, sixth- through eighth-grade students will visit the challenge course 10 to 15 times a year and ninth-grade students 10 times a year. Other students will get a chance to use the facility through clubs and sports teams.
But the low team challenge course is just phase one of the overall vision, Lamm and Brock said. During spring 2014, the school hopes to build a small shelter for the Hawks Quest reflection piece and two challenge elements that require harnesses. Funding for phase II has already been secured. The school also has plans for a phase III, which would involve a full high team challenge course to be installed likely sometime in 2015, though the school is still working to secure the funding.
“We’ve got lots of work to do to phase in the entire program,” Brock said. “I do believe it’s a trend. We’ve just been fortunate enough to jump in early.”
Overall, Lamm and Brock both said students are excited to use the course and staff at the school are happy to see kids learning in a recreational way. Not only do they hope kids will have more hands-on learning, but school leaders hope the course will help advocate for anti-bullying and expose kids to different kinds of students.
“I think this course is going to help tremendously with that, as well. We’re going to be breaking down lots of barriers,” Brock said.
“You’ve now created an environment where they can share their victories and their fears, then relate them to everyday life… sort of teach them how to get along better at home, on a sports team and ultimately, you’re teaching them resilience and tenacity.”