Oakland elementary school teacher April Blanton has wanted a rock-climbing wall since she started her career in physical education.
Blanton saw the wall as an opportunity to introduce her students to an activity that may not be accessible to them. While most children are used to sports like basketball and soccer, activities like climbing are a little more difficult.
In February 2020, Blanton got her wish after raising nearly $ 5,000 on a 5K Fun Run. West Ashley School was able to purchase a climbing wall that was installed in time for the 2020-21 school year. Blanton’s students have been climbing up, down and over ever since.
Oakland Elementary is now one of seven elementary and middle schools in the district with a climbing wall installed, including Sanders-Clyde Elementary in downtown Charleston, Drayton Hall Elementary in West Ashley, Hunley Park Elementary in North Charleston, Ladson Elementary, and Laurel Hill Primary School and Thomas C. Cario Middle School, both in Mount Pleasant.
While it seems like just another activity to most, Blanton says the wall helps her and other PE teachers motivate students to be active throughout their lives.
“One of our standards is that they should be lifelong physically active learners,” she said. “This is just another way of doing it.”
April Blanton, physical education teacher at Oakland Elementary School, speaks about the new climbing wall in the high school on April 13, 2021. Lauren Petracca / Staff
Building lifelong skills
At the start of each school year, Steve Kamp watches his students’ eyes light up when they hit the climbing wall in Hunley Park.
Kamp has been using the wall in class since he started teaching at school five years ago. As with Blanton, Kamp believes the wall equips students with skills that can be carried over throughout their education and into adulthood.
“It’s amazing to be able to use and incorporate at such a young age,” he said.
In addition to building strength and self-confidence, the climbing walls serve as a riddle for the students. The walls have three different colors of stones that indicate the difficulty of each grab bar. Green stones are the easiest, yellow ones are medium, and red ones are hard.
Blanton said the younger students tend to hold onto the green handles while the fourth and fifth graders work their way up to red. The different levels give students the framework for goal setting and allow them to track their own progress.
8-year-old second grader Khyla Lanoue will be climbing the climbing wall on April 13, 2021 at the Oakland Elementary School high school. Lauren Petracca / Staff
“It teaches some problem-solving skills that they normally wouldn’t need,” said Blanton. “When you’re there you say, ‘Oh, wait. Can i snap this … Can’t I pack this? … will I slip off of it? ‘”
Both Kamp and Blanton don’t just use the walls for physical activity. You can include other school subjects like math and reading in the activities on the walls.
“(We) use sentence structure or math problems,” said Kamp. “You have to go over the wall with one word and make a sentence and then come back and get another word, all of these things. I try to use it in different ways. “
Blanton said she got students to use north, south, east, and west directions when moving around the wall to teach them about geography. She also adds attachments like hula hoops and bean bags to hold games and obstacles.
To keep things interesting, teachers can change the placement of the grab bars on the wall so that students continue to face a challenge even after they have learned the teaching.
“It’s not just straight ahead,” said Blanton. “They are different activities that you can participate in using problem-solving skills that you don’t need to play on the computer.”
Invest in trust
For any student who has taken the opportunity to run and play games during physical education class is a student who detests the idea of competitive sports. If you ask Blanton, the climbing wall will help students feel safe in an environment that they would normally not be comfortable in.
The wall presents a challenge for the students without playing them off against each other. Unlike sports where there are winners and losers, the wall enables an activity in which each student’s success is individual.
“It’s fun to see them overcome their fears,” she said. “Even now I have a couple that didn’t go all the way because they are just scared, but when they come across their face they light up, they are so proud of themselves and they are so excited.”
Kamp said the wall would be particularly useful for students with behavioral problems, as they would have the opportunity to use their brain in other ways.
Eight-year-old third grader Markino Allen is reaching for a climbing wall at Oakland Elementary School’s high school on April 13, 2021. Lauren Petracca / Staff
“It can really focus focus,” he said. “It’s something that motivates them to work on different things like muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility … helps build self-esteem.”
While clearly a benefit for teachers and students, the walls themselves aren’t cheap. The Oakland Wall cost $ 4,800. Many climbing wall manufacturers offer grants and other funding programs to help schools pay for the walls.
If you ask Oakland Elementary School principal Elizabeth Nicodin, the benefits are worth the cost.
“As a school, it’s one of those activities that our students always look forward to,” said Nikodin. “It’s just great to have something that most of our schools don’t have.”
Each school in the district has the ability to raise funds or apply for wall grants. If Blanton had their way, every school in the district could install its own wall.
“I love that we have it and I love that it is different from some of the other schools,” she said. “I also want children in general to benefit from it. If the other schools have the opportunity to raise funds to get the wall, it will be an advantage for the children. “