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Students find on-campus adventure

Ropes course
Instructor Anita Behrbaum helps a student harness up. Photo by Mark Clark.

PE 113 – Group Dynamic Activities is an unconventional class, to say the least. The one-credit class runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for one weekend and it takes place in a shady grove. Throughout the weekend, students work together to complete all types of challenges and team activities, from human puzzles to a cable 30 feet above ground.

“Some students don’t know anything about the course when they sign up,” explained Physical Education instructor Anita Behrbaum, who has been teaching the course for 19 years. “When we walk them out to the ropes course, they look up and say, ‘what did I just get myself into?’”

Originally built in the 1980’s, Green River’s ropes course has expanded with added elements and activities. The ropes course features more than a dozen elements, three of which are 35-40 feet from the ground. The perch gives students the opportunity to use climbing gear and a belay team to climb to the top of a 35-foot pole and jump to a suspended trapeze. The high platform consists of a horizontal log catwalk and a cable crossing between trees 40 feet above the course.

Ropes course
Students work together to complete a low element challenge. Photo by Mark Clark.

The first day of class focuses on building trust through teambuilding exercises, ‘people puzzles,’ and low element activities. Students learn to trust their classmates and themselves. The second day advances to high elements and activities. “The students are ready to challenge themselves to whatever level they are comfortable with,” explains Behrbaum.

Instructors emphasize “challenge by choice.” Ultimately, students choose how far out of their comfort zones they are willing to go.

Some students are ready to try everything without much fear or anxiety, while for others, the challenge could be simply climbing the 12 foot ladder or climbing halfway up to the perch. All activities are extremely safe with specific safety protocols, but overcoming perceived fears and believing in one’s ability is the challenge.

After each exercise, the class meets in a circle and processes the activity. The students volunteer their own feedback to each other, and occasionally the instructor guides the conversation when needed.

Processing after each activity teaches the class social lessons. “Through the class, students learn what makes a successful team,” Behrbaum explains. “They identify their own expectations and learn tolerance and respect for the expectations and perspectives of their classmates.”

ropes course
A student leaps from a pole to a trapeze. Photo by Mark Clark.

Consequently, students experience the adventure of a lifetime but leave the course having learned lifelong lessons. “I thought that the course was such a great tool to teach us about working together and overcoming common goals,” explained Katelynn Prater, who took the course fall quarter, 2013. “I learned a lot about myself and became acquainted with other students well beyond a normal classroom atmosphere.”

Mark Maitland, an inspector for Project Adventure, inc. visits challenge courses all over the country. He was struck by Green River’s unique course. “The challenge course at Green River Community College is tucked away in one of the many little oases around campus,” Maitland remarked. “The location is just steps away from parking, roads and buildings but feels like it could be deep in the wilderness due to the towering aspect of the trees that are utilized.”

Taking risks and making self-discoveries together underneath a canopy of trees builds a special bond between everyone present. “Sometimes I see my students on campus after the class ends. It’s a completely different ‘hi,’ one that always comes with a big smile,” explains Behrbaum. “It says, I saw you, I know what you did.”