One of the privileges and pleasures of serving as a Head of School is the opportunity to witness sometimes surprising maturity in our children. Three weeks ago, the fifth grade invited me to accompany them and their teacher on a field trip to the Granlibakken Treetop Adventure Park and Ropes Course. Of course I accepted. Spending the day out of the office with a group of terrific children on such an adventure is right up my alley.
The Granlibakken course is an impressive one. If you have never seen it — or better yet, participated — I highly encourage you to do so. I’ve enjoyed exploring ropes courses around the country; this one is the best I have experienced.
In addition to the team building exercises with which we began the morning, the course and the agenda are set up in such a way that every person participating sets her own agenda and follows his own path. The combination of independence, respect for others, personal challenge is unusual and very revealing.
We began the morning with requisite safety instructions and a couple of activities in which all nine students had to cooperate in a number of small exercises that allowed the kids to relax and our instructor to size up our abilities and limitations.
Every student group is different. There are always those who are quite sure they have all the answers, while others demonstrate remarkable patience. Ultimately, the games don’t work unless everyone has a voice, and our little crew cheerfully adapted.
Then it was on to the Treetop Adventures, which ranged from blue circle (beginner) to black diamond (very advanced). By this time we had been joined by a few other groups including both adults and a few other children.
The treetops were strewn with helmeted and safety-harnessed bodies of all shapes and sizes, as we worked our way upward on increasingly unsteady and difficult rope ladders, log bridges, swinging trapezes, zip lines, and the like. On some, small stature was an advantage; on others being an adult came in handy.
There was not a child among us who wasn’t excited by the prospects of what lay ahead at the beginning. A few had been to Granlibakken before and were committed to attacking all of the courses. A few were in for a totally new experience.
Ahead of me in line was one of our students (let’s call her Evy), for whom this adventure was utterly new and quite a challenge. Midway through the second (intermediate) course, she found herself facing a swinging bridge comprised of separately hanging parallel planks — a total of probably twelve, none of which could be skipped.
Doubly secured to the safety line above the bridge, but with nothing solid to which to hold, Evy froze two steps into her crossing. The problem was, there was no way to go but forward. Ten minutes later, she was still stuck, and the line behind us of folks waiting to complete that particular course was l-e-ng-thy and growing.
We might still be there had not two significant things happened. First, one of Evy’s classmates, a girl who had gleefully announced her desire to complete all the courses, simply put her own desires on hold. As those ahead of her disappeared, she stood firmly on the next platform and called out repeatedly to her terrified friend that she would not leave until Evy reached her. She was calm; she was reassuring; she was astoundingly patient; she was beautiful.
Second, every other person in line, mostly strangers, started calling out their encouragement to Evy. Those folks must have been frustrated on one level. After all, they had paid their money and were going nowhere. None of that was in evidence. Directly behind Evy as I was, I watched as one woman, just below the destination platform, started beckoning with a big “come on, you can do it” smile. She literally said, “Look at me, and you can do this.” And Evy did, crossing on a cushion of cheers.
When she reached the other side, her friend hugged her, and still-shaky Evy turned to her supporters and announced, “Thank you all for your encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
I kid you not. Kindness begets the same in return.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.