Can you imagine clinging to a wall thirty feet above the ground unable to see? For Hamlin 7th graders this is a regular occurrence as part of their rock climbing class. By taking away eyesight, students must rely both on their sense of touch and on the voices of their teammates below to help them locate holds.
Hamlin’s climbing program is almost twenty years old. Back in 1997, Hamlin was one of the first schools in the United States to bring outdoor climbing to K-8 students; in 2020 it will be an Olympic sport featured in Tokyo.
Hamlin’s wall covers 180 square meters of climbing space including 30 vertical feet to the top. There are 15 routes that are inspected and changed annually. The challenge level of the routes vary from 5.2 to 5.11a based on the Yosemite Decimal System which rates degree of difficulty for climbs. Only roughly 5% of Hamlin students can successfully complete the hardest path.
Hamlin’s program is embedded into the physical education program for grades 6-8 and is led by faculty member Michelle Lovejoy, who has been teaching climbing for ten years. Ms. Lovejoy emphasizes trust and the philosophy of “challenge by choice.” 6th graders spend a significant amount of time working on team building, including trust falls, before ever touching the wall. After their experience and confidence grows, 6th graders are able to belay each other up Hamlin’s wall, eventually putting their skills to work at Pinnacles National Park.
Ms. Lovejoy states, “Climbing is such an internal challenge, it makes you more confident and responsible, and is a total body workout.”