Mary White struggled to find a foothold as she climbed up the tree. The platform she needed to reach was 35 feet off the ground. As she gained adequate height, she remained paralyzed until Paul Stern told her to just try a belly flop.
Cheers filled the air as Mary landed on the platform, stood up, and then jumped – knowing that four classmates held the rope that would let her gently down to the ground.
“I finally faced my fear of heights,” said Mary, an eighth-grader at Fort Hill Community School and one of seven students who participated in the ropes courses at University of Lynchburg.
The students are part of the Young Champions program started by Pat Price ’95, ’05 MEd, director of LC’s Center for Community Development and Social Justice.
Price said the students, all of whom are in alternative schools for behavioral problems or absenteeism, are learning important skills by teaming up with LC’s Outdoor Leadership Program, led by Stern.
“This group did low ropes first so they would learn how to trust each other and how to communicate,” she said.
“I think it’s a great experience for them,” said Brittany Gibson ’12, a recent LC elementary education graduate and their student teacher. “It teaches them about leadership, teamwork, and about nature. It really does build family.”
The LC ropes course, located in the woods near Faculty Drive, provides training and adventure for a number of LC and community groups.
Brandi Moore, who teaches science at Fort Hill, said the program is awesome. “I’m so proud of them,” she said. “They are conquering their fears today.”
Seventh-grader Clarence Slaughter cheered as he watched his teacher climb the tree. “Believe in yourself, Ms. Moore,” he shouted. Clarence said the high ropes courses were scary, but he kept volunteering for increasingly challenging tests. “I just closed my eyes, and I believed.”
Price has done a number of outreach programs with Young Champions of all ages. This semester she persuaded the superintendent to allow the students from the alternative program to attend an assembly at Dunbar Middle School to hear Civil Rights activist Dr. Virgil Wood speak
Normally, students from the alternative programs are barred from participating in extracurricular activities in their “home” schools. Price is trying to change that isolation so the students will be better prepared for a chance to leave the alternative program.