Challenge courses help develop users’ confidence, self-esteem, problem-solving skills, motivation, group dynamics, and leadership ability. Gibson, who holds dual B.A. degrees from Pennsylvania State University in psychology and philosophy and a post-graduate diploma in outdoor education from the University of Edinburgh, believes all that and more. She sees the course elements as tools she and other teachers–Maine Coast Semester and Elementary School faculty and summer program leaders, in addition to Outdoor Classroom staff–can use to enrich their curricula. Gibson’s view is cross-disciplinary: a group might act out the central dilemma of a novel using boards and platforms or muster the courage and cooperation they need to conquer a physical challenge that at first seemed impossible. Activities may lead to a sense of team or individual accomplishment, or both.Gibson wants to make strong connections between the challenge course and classroom experiences. “We’re trying to take what students are doing in the classroom and give them a way to reinforce that, a physical way…It’s about metaphors,” Gibson says. What attracted her to Chewonki was the opportunity to work with an organization committed to finding “how to integrate and utilize this amazing resource” into teaching. The challenge course is the first step in Chewonki’s new (and still evolving) master plan. High 5, an organization based in Brattleboro, Vermont, with a reputation for building high-quality courses designed for education, constructed ours over the summer, after hundreds of donors contributed to Chewonki’s Climb Higher campaign. Thank you, friends! Be sure to see this wonderful new highlight on Chewonki Neck next time you’re here.
Shelly Gibson, coordinator of Chewonki’s new challenge course, strides through the woods on a bright morning, pointing out each of the elements. Freshly constructed wooden platforms, ladders, and boards glow softly in the dappled sunlight. Ropes and cables stretch, loop, and hang like the rigging of a phantom ship. “I like that it’s sort of hidden in the woods,” says Gibson. Lots of people have been on ropes courses. “There’s one on every corner these days,” Gibson laughs. What she’s overseeing at Chewonki, she clarifies, is not a ropes course but a challenge course designed to support education. Over the span of the year, she will be working with educators from every Chewonki program to plan ways to use the course to enhance students’ learning. Our Outdoor Classroom instructors were the first to receive training from Gibson on how to use the course. They then joined her in introducing it to groups of pioneering middle-school students from the Nashoba Brooks School (Concord, Massachusetts) and Camden-Rockport Middle School (Camden, Maine) during the last week of August. The students scrambled, balanced, and climbed on a variety of low and high elements during their visit to Chewonki. “It was great to see the course in use,” says Gibson. “The kids brought it to life.”