Odyssey emerges from the top out section of the bouldering area with a smile that shows it all. She just mastered a new climbing skill. She is ecstatic and very proud of herself. Odyssey worked incredibly hard for this accomplishment, and her perseverance paid off.
Odyssey is a participant in the Climbing Club, a program for fifth graders in Roanoke Parks and Recreation’s P.L.A.Y. After School program. Twice weekly this past fall, fifth graders from three recreation centers visited the River Rock Climbing gym where they were introduced to the basics of rock climbing and bouldering. Over the course of fourteen weeks, the Climbing Club challenged themselves while practicing their form and movement. Most importantly, they had fun!
One of the challenges presented to the group was a skill known as “topping out.” This term refers to climbing up and over a boulder problem to the “top out” area, and climbing down a different way. Mastering this skill takes strength, courage, and perseverance. Once a student was successful, they received a coveted top out bracelet. Odyssey desperately wanted a bracelet, but was frustrated when she was unsuccessful on her first few attempts while other students prevailed. However, she continued to try again and again. After several weeks, she worked up her strength and topped out on the first try, receiving a well earned bracelet.
Introducing youth to outdoor-oriented sports has been a goal of Play Roanoke staff for years. This goal is the reason the Climbing Club and Mountain Bike Club were started three years ago for students in the P.L.A.Y. After School program. “We believe in getting kids outside and introducing them to sports like rock climbing and mountain biking. They not only get to learn a new skill, but they build self-confidence, trust in their peers, and the chance to exercise while doing something super fun,” explains Environmental Education Supervisor Matt Allenbaugh, the coordinator of the program.
Fourth graders in the P.L.A.Y. program have the opportunity to participate in the weekly Mountain Bike Club. Over thirteen weeks, BICP-certified instructors with Roanoke Parks and Recreation teach the students mountain biking basics. This year’s club was a little different than previous years as more than half of the ten students did not know how to ride a bike at the start of the program. That didn’t stop the students or the instructors from achieving the goal of getting kids on bikes and riding trails. After quite a bit of hard work, dedication, and one-on-one coaching, each student came out of the program not only riding a bike, but also tackling the beginner skills loop at Vic Thomas Park.
Based on the experiences this year and feedback from students and staff, Play Roanoke is working to expand the program in 2023. Through seeking grant funding and purchasing more bikes, an additional program can be added for third graders to “Learn to Ride”. If funding is secured by spring 2023, Roanoke Parks and Recreation will be able to offer outdoor programming for P.L.A.Y. After School students in three grade levels and more bike opportunities for the community.
At the end of the Climbing Club, the students were asked what they liked about the program and what they learned. One student wrote “I loved when I did the one thing I couldn’t do before.” According to Allenbaugh, “That’s what it’s all about, creating new experiences for our youth, and challenging them to do things they couldn’t do before. We can’t wait to see what these bright faces will accomplish next.”