Spotlight on the Outdoor Program, Part 2: Climbing Classes

Wednesday, 06. November 2013

by Daniel Davis Wood

The Ecole's climbing classes offer a fun physical and mental challenge to students. Besides becoming familiar with the technical curriculum of each class, students learn how to be trustworthy and to trust their peers. Climbing is offered to students through the Ecole’s Outdoor Program, and it’s the second of four outdoor activities that we’ll take a closer look at with Michel Raab, our Outdoor Program Director and Risk Management Officer.

Ecole d'Humanité climbing classes, 2011.

There are currently three climbing classes on offer at the Ecole d’Humanité. Lessons are taken by a total of more than thirty students and each class is made up of a mix of boys and girls. “We spend the first thirty minutes of each class reviewing climbing technique or a specific belaying, leading, or risk management issue,” says Michel. “Most of our teaching involves giving students direct, on-the-spot feedback. That means offering tips while they climb, as well as correcting their belaying technique when we see them making mistakes.”

Helena Gates, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been taking climbing lessons at the Ecole since she arrived here three years ago. “One of my most memorable experiences in my three years was the 2013 Four-Day Mountaineering Hike,” she says, referring to a hike that requires students to use the techniques they learn in climbing classes in the field. “It was such an invigorating experience to climb spectacular mountain ridges and hike on glaciers. Not many people my age can say that they have hiked for four days through the Swiss alps with ten of their closest friends.”

Students such as Helena “learn about overcoming challenges and fears, and how to remain calm and composed in exposed terrain,” says Michel. “They must be reliable and follow the direct instructions of their teachers,” and if they demonstrate these qualities they can sign up for the Four-Day Mountaineering Hike. “Right now,” Michel adds, “our main task for the new breed of students joining the Outdoor Program is to develop their sense of judgement, their critical thinking skills, and their safe habits in the outdoors. We do this by balancing out instructions with guidance, and by adapting our teaching methods to the learning styles and needs of different students in very dynamic environments.”

“When I came to the Ecole d’Humanité,” says Helena, “I was fifteen years old and my favorite thing to do was text message my friends. I hated being outdoors. I can honestly say that I have grown up tremendously in these past three years. I remember a former student telling me on my first day that the Ecole was his home and I remember thinking about how absurd that sounded, but looking back on it now I fully agree with him. I am so lucky that I have the ability to explore outside the classroom, because I feel that people today forget to look up and enjoy the environment around them. The Ecole does an exceptional job of balancing academic education with physical education and sets itself apart from any other school because of its Outdoor Program. Students are urged to get up from their seats and enjoy the outdoors, and that is part of what makes this place so unique.”