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Ropes Course Pushes Students to 'REACH' Their Potential

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RALEIGH — What do you get when you take teenagers out of the classroom, and ask them to solve a problem as a group? Coordinators ofWake County's "REACH" program say you get success.

"Most students do very well out here," says teacher Rob Harris-Cannon. "It's a physical challenge, and it's a mental challenge. If they're having trouble with academics, they can sometimes shine in situations like this."

Sixth and seventh graders from the Mt. Vernon Redirection School in Wake County are learning in a new way. They spent a day on a ropes course near Garner to gain skills they could not get in a classroom.

In one exercise, they go from rope to rope on boxes without touching the ground. Teachers say students who have trouble in the classroom, often flourish at hands-on problem-solving.

The ultimate challenge of the day was a high ropes course suspended from trees.

"In the beginning of the day they say there's no way I'm going to do this, that's too high. I don't want to do it. I'm scared of heights," says program coordinator Amanda Rumsey.

First they learn how to put on their safety equipment. Then, they learn how to use it.

Teacher Vanette McKinney was surprised by one student who had a hard time paying attention in the classroom, but not there.

"Out here he was an absolutely different person," McKinney said. "He was engaged, he was helpful to others, he listened attentively."

Finally, it was time to put their learning to the test.

One step at a time, students navigate the narrow wires 60 feet above the ground. Their classmates and teachers lend support.

"People encouraged me a whole lot," says student Donivan Bridges. "I wouldn't have been able to get through that last part if Mr. Harris-Canon and Tex wouldn't have helped me."

The kids are learning a lot more than teamwork and confidence, they are learning bravery.

At the end, comes what many believe is the scariest part -- students jump off a high platform and slide down a long wire to the ground.

After they land safely, the teenagers realized that they had learned a lot about themselves.

"I learned to trust myself, encourage and trust other people," says student Michael Gilcrest.

"What we do is we plant a seed and the teachers and counselors can take it back and grow that seed and nurture that seed," says program coordinator Tex Bennett.

Teachers hope lessons learned at the ropes course will translate into the classroom. Some students already see the connection.

"With tests, I keep believing that I could make an A on it, always help other people and let them help me too," says student Brandon Keith.

Teachers say that kind of pride will allow the students to REACH for anything they want out of life.

The ropes course, which is near Garner, is not just for kids. Companies and organizations also use it for team-building exercises, but instructors say the course is particularly valuable for students because it gives them confidence at a crucial point in their lives.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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