Rock Climbing at Tahoma High School by Tracy Krause

This popular guest blog post was originally posed in May of 2020. We hope it inspires some new ideas for your climbing program!

Rock Climbing at Tahoma High School by Tracy Krause

The Top Rope Climbing Wall at Tahoma High School in Tahoma, WA is part of three unique programs.

9th Grade Foundations in Health and Physical Education

This year-long, integrated health and physical education course is required for all 9th grade students at Tahoma High School. The intent is to marry health concepts as closely as possible with movement concepts and strategies. The first unit, “Climbing to the Top”, is intentionally placed at the start of the year to build amongst our students a sense of trust, collaboration, and team. Rock climbing as the backdrop allows an entry point for all students because it evens the playing field more effectively than do other physical activities.

Girl tying a figure eight knot before rock climbing

Through the themes of team building, self-esteem, and growth mindset, students develop effective communication and collaboration skills, understand how their own personality/work/leadership traits can impact personal and team success, and review conflict resolution skills and anti-bullying and harassment issues. Students practice these skills to support each other in learning how to rock climb, and explore how these skills will help make them successful in the class.

Unit Learning Targets:

  • I can utilize appropriate climbing techniques to help solve problems on a bouldering obstacle course.  
  • I can spot my climbing partner in a safe and appropriate manner.
  • I can adhere to and enforce the spotter rules.
  • I can identify route differences and what that can be changed to influence the difficulty of a route.
  • I can identify climbing techniques and their relationship to route challenges.
  • I can put my harness on correctly.
  • I can check a knot that connects my harness to a top rope.
  • I can use appropriate climbing commands with my belayer.
  • I can keep my partner safe while climbing to the top.
  • I can use an appropriate belay technique that keeps the rope taught and keeps my brake hand on the rope at all times.
  • I can belay my partner in a safe and appropriate manner.
  • I can explain the 5-point numbering system and how it relates to top rope climbing.
  • I can identify appropriate climbing goals for myself.
  • I can persist to reach my previously set high point
  • I can support my climbing partners in reaching their personal “high point.”
  • I can apply the climbing techniques to a bouldering competition.

Power Hour

All 2700 students at Tahoma High School take lunch together from 10:25 to 11:25 Monday through Thursday. Referred to as “Power Hour,” this unique strategy allows students to eat, meet, seek support, take tests, or participate in physical activity. One of the popular activities on campus is rock climbing. Whether bouldering or top-roping, students from around the school tenaciously work toward completing personal goals. With over 25 top-routes, rated between 5.7 to 5.12b, there is literally a route for every level of skill and experience.

Close up of a climbing wall

This past school year was our first in a new building, with new curriculum, and new lunch structure. We have already seen a dramatic increase in attendance during Power Hour this year and anticipate an increase over each of the next three years as each 9th grade class is trained as belayers. At this point we are averaging just short of 35 students per lunch session. Some of these students are actively taking physical education classes, but many are taking advantage of the structure to incorporate physical activity into their day without being enrolled in class. A favorite highlight is the inclusive nature of climbing. We have several developmentally disabled students who are regular participants during power hour. It is truly inspiring to see these students excel within a platform that is so inclusive.

Students being lowered down from the top of the climbing wall after reaching the top

An additional benefit has been support from teaching staff around the building. Teachers spend half of Power Hour at lunch, but the other half is spent working with students in a variety of ways. Many of our colleagues elect to work with students on the climbing wall and that has led to a greater understanding of what our physical education department does and how that so positively impacts students.

Tahoma Climbing Club

The Tahoma Climbing Club is an off-shoot of our Power Hour climbing structure. Students approached our staff with a proposal for a weekend climbing club and we met to determine what that would look like. The idea was to open the wall up for students on Sunday evenings during the year and work toward a climbing competition at the end of the year in June.

Student belaying another student who is climbing up the climbing wall

At least two staff members made the wall available each Sunday during second semester. 15 students became members of the club and competed in the first annual Morgan Miller Memorial Climbing Competition. Morgan was a local climber and supporter of youth climbing who had worked with our students and staff for the past 15 years. Killed in an avalanche last winter, his influence was big reason our school program has been so successful.

 Boy trying to climb over a roof feature on a top rope climbing wall

The first climbing competition included 25 climbers; both staff and students participated in 4 different events. Trophies were awarded to winners in four divisions. Year two will start much earlier during first semester and no doubt include more students and staff.

Boy climbing on a top rope climbing wall by Everlast Climbing

About the Author

Tracy Krause is a National Board Certified Health and Physical Education teacher at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, Washington. Part of his program includes the Outdoor Academy, an integrated course that combines hiking, biking, rock climbing and fly fishing with language arts and science. Tracy was the 2008 SHAPE America National High School Teacher of the year and the 2012 National Football League Educator of the Year.

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