CALAIS, Maine — Last year, several area elementary and high schools brought their students to the Washington County Community College to learn some new skills during their half-day climb on the college’s rock wall.
“We had every school within a 40-mile radius participate; students as far as Edmunds and Alexander came,” Chris Woodside, WCCC Outdoor Adventure Center coordinator, said.
The experience was a huge success. Now, Woodside is in the process of contacting all Washington County elementary and high schools to invite them to participate again. “This is free and will introduce the kids to climbing. A lot of time you have gym classes and there is snow and not enough to do, so this is something they can do that is different and fun,” he said.
Although the semester has just started, the coordinator said that some schools already have booked time on the rock wall. Schools that will be participating for the first time this year are Elm Street Elementary School in East Machias and the grammar school in Whiting.
“So we are seeing the program expand,” he said.
WCCC students, who also are trained climbers, will be on hand to assist. “With the school groups we like to teach them the basic safety stuff and then get them climbing,” Woodside said.
If there are more students than room on the rock wall, the WCCC student instructors teach the youngsters the art of belay. “We will tie extra ropes onto the rope and now everyone is hooked into the person who is in the harness and they are the ones pulling their classmates up the rock wall and helping them down. It is really neat because it is a team effort. They all become part of the system,” he said.
Students who are not climbing the rock wall can free-climb the smaller boulder wall. And, of course, while some are on the wall, other classmates are on the ground cheering them on.
Last year, some of the schools brought multiple classes that had to be split up. Woodside said that while one class was climbing, the other was on a tour of the college. The WCCC coordinator said he believes it is a good introduction to the facility. “It sort of demystifies the college experience for them,” he said. “I think it can make a difference. I don’t care if they end up going to WCCC, what I like is the idea they can see college as a positive experience.”
The event is free and open to all Washington County schools. For information, contact Woodside by phone at 207-454-1068 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org