Ropes courses a good challenge for youth

As an Adventure Programmer, I have had the opportunity to bring students to ropes courses where they could test their metal, challenge their comfort zones and, in some instances, experience personal triumph. It has been my privilege to witness these moments of triumph. One adventure experience, however, allowed me a window into a dynamic that left me feeling concerned. I was asked by a local school district to visit a fourth grade class to encourage teamwork and a more positive vibe among the students. I chose a game that asked participants to gather around an aluminum soda can. Everyone must be in touch with the can without touching any part of each other and someones proboscis (nose) must be in touch with the can. As is my custom, I asked the group if anyone had an idea as to the solution. A diminutive girl with dark eyes and clothes that were somewhat unkempt spoke in a small voice. She was offering one of the solutions to the challenge. Amazed that she could reason a solution so quickly, I resolved myself to having my thunder stolen by this tiny and very bright little girl. I asked the group if they heard her suggestion and they indicated that they did. As I lowered the spongy aluminum can into the middle of the circle, four individuals reached for it. One came away with it and started to run wildly within our program space while the three others pursued. Within thirty seconds, the can was crushed. After returning to the circle, very few participants offered what they felt about what had happened. Again, I asked the girl with the solution to speak in her biggest voice to tell what I knew to be one possible solution to the challenge. When she finished, I again asked if everyone heard her and they all indicated that they had. I placed another aluminum can in the middle, which was then grabbed and crushed by the same four students. When we returned to the circle, I asked by a show hands how many of them had actually heard what the girl with the solution had said. Of 22 students, five raised their hands. This girl had offered the solution three times yet almost no one could hear her. Somehow, this girl was invisible to her classmates. While I cannot be certain, I suspect that she did not have the right social credentials. She did not have the right clothes, the eighty-dollar sneakers and, I suspect, little social currency to spend among her peers. It concerns me that a bright and articulate student could be almost entirely marginalized by her peers for reasons that should have little or no significance. It made me wonder how many other bright people with great ideas are never heard because they too do not have the right social pedigree or the accoutrements of popularity. If these events do happen even occasionally, our communities are missing the opportunity to harvest an important community resource, the intelligence, imagination and innovation of its entire people. Remember, all kids count.

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