Student Achievement

Seattle School Incorporates Rock Climbing Into Academics

By Bryan Toporek — June 16, 2011 1 min read
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Did you ever imagine a school teaching students about friction, inertia, geology, and geography with rock climbing?

The Seattle Times ran a story on Tuesday about Pinehurst K-8, an alternative school that’s fighting to stay open by making changes to its nontraditional curricula.

The school, which originally opened 40 years ago as Alternative School No. 1, incorporated a learning-through-doing philosophy as one of its cornerstones. This past year, students at the school were aiming to collectively climb 29,035 feet (also known as the height of Mount Everest) before the end of the school year.

Five years ago, the school allowed students to choose their teachers, had no standardized testing, and even to this day, the school gives no letter grades to students.

“Our philosophy is that [physical activity] drives learning way more than a desire for good test scores,” said Margery Edwards, a 35-year teacher who formerly taught at Pinehurst, to the paper. “It drives real learning that kids remember for the rest of their lives.”

Pinehurst’s new principal, Roy Merca, who’s been at the school for two years, now “strongly encourages” all students to take standardized tests. He’s also asked the school’s teachers to spend a specified amount of time on the district’s math and reading curricula, which has helped the school’s test scores rise.

Merca told the Times that, before his arrival at the school, “students would choose what kind of education they wanted. I wanted more of a balance. We could still be alternative, but we could be curriculum-based, too.”

That said, they haven’t turned their back on the climbing program. In fact, students at the school are so used to climbing at this point, that parent-teacher Cheryl Carp, who runs the climbing program, has incorporated specific challenges into it. She’ll make students climb blindfolded or breathe through straws to simulate high-altitude conditions.

Carp also trained roughly two dozen students to be belayers—these students hold the ropes for their fellow climbers to ensure that everyone’s staying safe.

Photo: Parent Cheryl Carp, who volunteers at Pinehurst K-8, points upward as she leads 5th and 6th graders in a wall-climbing exercise at the school in Seattle’s Northgate area. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.