Bringing out the best in each other
It looked easy. They’d just step onto the large, tippy wooden platform two at a time until all dozen students were aboard, the sixth graders thought. But each time, one end of the platform touched the ground. As a chorus of “what ifs” and “let's” filled the forest, one voice rose above the others: “We’re all talking at once. We need to listen to each other.”
The middle schoolers were discovering teamwork essentials at the PNW BOCES Challenge Course—a series of physical and mental challenges that can only be solved when groups of students work together. The field trip grew out of John Jay Middle School’s commitment to students’ cognitive, social and emotional growth.
emphasizing interconnectedness, empathy and self-awareness
“The Challenge Course helped students listen carefully, communicate clearly and think creatively,” said Christine Watroba, one of the sixth-grade teachers. “It also gave students who came from three different elementary schools as well as outside the district a fun way to get to know each other.”
John Jay Middle School is all about teamwork. The sixth grade is divided into five academic teams—Tapestry, Tenacity, Aspire, Atlas and Intrepid—groups of approximately 50 students that rotate through same math, ELA, social studies and science teachers each day. “We build classroom communities first, then the team community followed by the sixth-grade community,” said Assistant Principal Monica Bermiss. "We scheduled the Challenge Course early in the year so students can apply their communication skills in the classroom.”
Teamwork is the key to success
All along the wooded trail of BOCES’s Challenge Course, groups of students were weaving through a spider's web made of rope, crossing an imaginary murky swamp on planks and hoisting each other over a shoulder-high waterwheel. Those at the Kukaloo Platform were considering their mistakes and setting a new strategy.
“Hey—Benny has a good idea,” said one of the students. “Let’s listen.”
Gleaning ideas from all participants was an important shift, inviting collaboration, compromise and respect. When the students ultimately balanced together on Kukaloo Platform, it was a team win.