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[whitespace] Local students conquer fears on new Ropes course

Sunnyvale--The Fremont Union High Schools Foundation finally opened their Ropes Course at Baylands Park to students on Oct. 16, four years after it was initially conceived.

The course, which is designed to help local students both work together productively and conquer their fears, has developed by the city for quite some time. The city council approved the course as a study issue in 1996. Upon receiving the study, they approved the project in 1997. The city began actual construction began with an official groundbreaking last December. The site was completed, and the city held the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 17. Teachers went through the training program over summer break.

Two teachers from each school in the Fremont Union High School District went through the eight hours a day, six-day training session in order to master the many elements of the course. The training covered areas from ground-level group problem-solving events to the 25-foot high individual fear-conquering events. The teachers then went back to their respective high schools and trained student leaders to assist them with each challenge.

The idea of the ropes course was first developed in the 1960s by the leadership/adventure group Outward Bound. The courses were designed primarily for teenagers, encouraging growth by meeting challenges, learning to reduce interpersonal barriers, facing and overcoming fears, and appreciating the value of teamwork in overcoming obstacles.

"We give the participants a lot of guidance, but we try to let each individual succeed for themselves," says student leader Darryl Hickam, emphasizing the amount of protection that is provided for each event. "No one has to do anything they don't want to."

There was a lot of support provided at the initial student participation on Oct. 16, during which two teachers and four student leaders from Cupertino High School and seven students from the special Phoenix program executed the program. A select number of Phoenix students were asked to participate as a reward for good attendance.

The teachers tried to make everyone feel as safe as possible while still stressing the challenge of each apparatus. They taught students mnemonic devices to help them ensure their safety. While setting up their harnesses for their 25-foot high wire walk, teacher Gregg Buie reminded students how to secure their equipment, telling them to "Screw down so you don't screw up." A few minutes later, he tested the group by beginning the phrase, and then waiting for them to finish it, which they did--in unison.

A good number of students conquered their fears by standing up high on the structure. Many of the participants admitted to being scared of heights. However, when encouraged by their friends and peers, they were able to surmount their fears.

In the end, every student completed the exercise successfully. Admittedly, some felt a little winded afterwards, but all finished the day very satisfied with themselves and their accomplishments.

Other students will soon follow. Each high school in the district will use the course this year as a character builder for their students, but the FUHS Foundation hopes to expand the use of the course in the future.

"The idea is to get enough people, especially students, qualified as leaders," says Buie. "Then we can start renting the course out to organizations and businesses."
Daniel Hindin

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Web extra to the October 26-November 1, 2000 issue of Metro.

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