Pupils get a grip with climbing wall in elementary school's gymnasium

Teacher turns notion into healthful reality

March 23, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Elaine Cherneski's gym classes have her pupils climbing walls.

Literally.

Cherneski is a physical education teacher at Freedom Elementary School in Sykesville, where a climbing wall has been installed to promote upper body strength, coordination and confidence.

All first- through fifth-grade pupils use the Horizontal Bouldering Wall, which has epoxy handholds across it. Pupils stand on handholds while moving horizontally across the wall.

"Sadly, in today's world, most kids are weak in upper body strength," said Cherneski, the driving force behind acquiring the wall. "I'm hoping in a few years we will see significant increases in upper body strength."

Pupils raised funds

The wall is particularly meaningful to pupils, who helped raise the money to buy the equipment.

"I felt like I earned it," said Melissa Smith, 10. "This is really challenging, and I like challenges."

"I really like it," said Timmy Triplett, 10. "I really have to think about where I am putting my feet."

Besides building strength, coordinating climbs will help pupils with balance and cognitive skills.

"They have to think ahead and plan what they're going to do as they go across the wall," she said.

The handholds can be moved around, to adjust the difficulty level of the wall.

"Once the kids think they've mastered it, I can make it more challenging by moving" the handholds, she said. "Then, I'm going to do cooperative courses. For example, we will put a rope in each child's pant loops and have them walk across together without losing the rope."

Family brought idea

Cherneski said too many physical education programs today stress competition.

"So much time is spent on competitive games," she said. "Here, you're competing against yourself. I'm so excited about this because it is the new, innovative way of teaching physical education."

The idea for the climbing wall was introduced to Cherneski more than a year ago when her son and daughter-in-law were substitute teaching at Pot Springs Elementary School in Baltimore County and raved about its climbing wall.

"I didn't think much more about it until I saw an article in the Towson Times about Tom Taylor, a teacher who created and installed the Horizontal Bouldering Wall at his elementary school," she said.

Cherneski received a flier about the equipment and got more interested. She called Taylor and spoke to him about 45 minutes.

Then, when Freedom teachers had a professional day, they visited gym teacher Craig Walker at Spring Garden Elementary School in Hampstead, where a climbing wall was in place.

After doing more research, she approached her principal, Richard Huss, about the equipment.

"He was committed [to the idea], but he didn't have any money in the budget for it," she said.

Cherneski decided to combine physical education with fund raising to produce a Jump-a-Thon, which was held in January.

"About 600 kids jumped rope during their physical education classes," Cherneski said. "We held the Jump-a-Thon from Jan. 10 through Jan. 14. It was always during physical education class. The pledges were flat amounts. Some kids brought in as much as $350 in pledges."

By Jan. 27 and $12,000 later, the Horizontal Bouldering Wall went up in the gym, with 2-inch thick folding mats below it. The climbing wall cost $3,300. It would have cost more, she added, but the Lumber Yard in Sykesville donated nearly $400 worth of plywood.

"I told the kids that any money we bring in above the $3,300 for the wall will be used toward the adventure gym," Cherneski said.

Cherneski said she has ordered parts of the adventure gym, which will include A-frames with connecting bars.

The biggest obstacle, she said, is that the school has no place to store the equipment.

"One father talked about donating a shed," she said.

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