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Outdoor challenges prepare future teachers for success

September 25, 2017

KOKOMO, Ind. — Standing on a platform high above the trees, Tiffany Cron gingerly peeks over the edge, holding back panic as she spots the ground 60 feet below.

She perches near the side, helmet on head, and a harness and steel cables firmly attaching her to the zip line in front of her, and takes a step back. Amanda Hanson, an Indiana University Kokomo adjunct instructor, places a hand on Cron’s shoulder, encouraging her to take the leap, but assuring her it is her choice.

Making up her mind, Cron takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and jumps. She shrieks first in fear, then in delight, as she flies 400 feet to another platform, where a dozen of her School of Education classmates cheer as she lands. 

“Except for the first part, that was fun,” Cron says with a shaky smile, as a Bradford Woods staff member unclips her from the zip line.

The trip to Bradford Woods, IU’s outdoor education center, is part of IU Kokomo’s “KEY” program — the Kokomo Experience and You. The program launched in 2016 to provide students chances to connect with people and participate in real-world experiences. The goal for the Freshman Learning Community trip was for students to begin building relationships among themselves, and with their faculty, creating a foundation that makes them more likely to succeed in college.

Hanson and Christina Ivanova, acting assistant professor of English language arts and reading, said the day was about pushing past boundaries, and taking the leap into the unknown. They also wanted students to learn to communicate with and support each other through their degree program.

“We’ve taken them out of their comfort zones,” said Hanson, noting that most of the students met about a month ago, when the fall semester classes began. ““They’re just beginning their four-year program together, so we’re establishing relationships, and building a community. Our goal today was team building, talking to one another, and challenging ourselves outside.”

Working together to solve a problem, or to encourage each other to step off the zip line platform, builds trust in one another, freshman Jasmine Emberton said.

“We’re in a different atmosphere, that forces us out of our shells,” she said.

She and a handful of her teammates cheered encouragingly as the more reluctant of the group took the leap from the zip line platform. Hanson stood at the top, giving pep talks as needed, and yelling “Zip free!” as they hurtled to the end of the line. Ivanova waited at the bottom, applauding and giving affirmation for completing the challenge.

Dean Leah Nellis said the day provides a chance for the students to get to know their teachers outside the classroom.

“This experience builds relationships, not only among the students, but with their faculty, which are crucial for student success,” she said. “They learn to communicate, listen, and trust one another as they seek solutions to challenges. As future teachers, they also see first-hand the importance of working as a team, and experiential learning, which they can carry with them as they begin working with children.”

In addition to the zip line, the freshmen practiced group problem solving, including walking through a rope maze blindfolded, grabbing hold of a rope swing just out of reach to swing across an imaginary chasm, and simulating escaping a sinking boat in a torrential flood.

Standing on a four-by-four wood platform, Shaylee Ison reached forward with a long plank, desperately trying to touch another platform, tantalizingly close.

Behind Ison, her team offered suggestions how they might all reach the other platform, without the board or themselves falling into flood waters raging around them.

Finally, seven students anchored the board to the platform by standing on it, while a teammate walks out on it, carrying a second board to overlap at its center to reach safety. One after another, the young women crossed, careful not to step on the center, which would push the planks down into the water, sweeping them away.

When only Ison and one other remain, they passed the first board across, then leaped across to the second, their teammates grabbing them and pulling them to safety

The challenge courses give them a chance to learn about each other, and what strengths each of them have, said Ison.

“I’m used to being a leader when I work in groups,” she said. “This gave us a chance to learn about each other, and meet people we don’t know as well. On campus, some people can put on an act, but here, you can be yourself.”

Learning how to communicate with one another was key to the day, according to Jared Heard, from New Castle.

“That’s what we do as teachers,” he said. “We got to know people in a way that we had to communicate with them.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 09/25/2017