By Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
The Elmore County Alternative Program is challenging sixth graders from Redland, Holtville, Eclectic, Wetumpka and Millbrook to be a part of something bigger than just themselves.
ECAP has implemented a ‘ropes program’ for local middle schoolers in an effort to promote team building and leadership. Each day, two classes from one of the schools get to travel to the field located behind the ECAP building.
But what’s on the field is where the real challenge begins.
Over 40 feet in the air, a large, horizontal wooden pole supported by two beams towers over the grounds. The middle schoolers climb up one of the poles and make the journey from one side to the other – some quicker than others.
After the kids reach the other side, they hook onto a zip line and travel back down to ground level.
But don’t worry. Every child is extremely safe during the process.
Garrett Matthews, head instructor over the Ropes Program, makes sure that safety is the number one priority for the course.
“We constantly have inspectors come up here and make sure that everything is up to date. Every child is given a securely tightened harness and helmet. All the equipment has about a five-year lifespan, so we consistently change that out. It allows for maximum child safety,” Matthews said.
Next to the zip line is a 25- and 50-foot rock climbing wall. The middle schoolers are only allowed to climb the 25 ft wall, as even that proved to be difficult for most.
But the encouraging part of it all is the support that each child would get from their classmates. Many children would cheer on their friends, reassuring them that they could do it. This encouragement is what the ropes program is all about.
“We want each child to lift each other up. Sometimes, at this age, it’s easy to just want things for yourself. But here, we preach about selflessness. I sit all the kids down before we even start and tell them about the importance of teamwork and how facing your fears helps to build character,” Matthews said.
That support is bolstered by the teachers that help to chaperone the kids.
As it stands, one teacher from each of the schools comes to help watch the students during the day long activities. This eliminates the needs for a heavy number of substitutes at a single school.
There are also about three different P.E. teachers that are stationed on and around the different activities. However, Matthews would like to see that number rise to at least five, full-time employees to help eliminate the need for so many substitute P.E. teachers.
The course has been around for the past 20 years, hosting freshmen from Faulkner University, the Elmore Fire Department, prison guards and many more along the way. However, for the past three years, the course has not been operational. The rope program and the re-introduction to the field can be accredited to Bill Bergeron, Director of ECAP.
“Elmore School Superintendent Richard Dennis just told me he wanted to get this thing going again, so I sat down and figured out what we needed to do to get this program started. I talked to Mr. Matthews about helping run this for us and to make sure we had the right people involved,” Bergeron explained.
Bergeron knows that bringing the Ropes Program back is an opportunity for the children to spend a little time away from the classroom and have some fun.
“You can just tell that the kids love it. It does give them some team building, but it really helps to build their confidence. A lot of kids say ‘I can’t do this’, then when you see them sliding through the air with a smile on their face, and that really says a lot,” Bergeron said.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Millbrook Middle School had the opportunity to come out to the course and make memories with their fellow classmates. With the support of Matthews, Bergeron and everyone else who helps with the Ropes Program, those memories will last forever.