Rockcastle Leaders Work Together to Solve Ropes Challenge

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Blindfolded and instructed to rob a bank without touching any laser sensors, Frankie Woodall was out of ideas. “Without my partners, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” said the 9th-grader from Rockcastle County High School. But, with the help of 19 other freshmen, he made it through the lasers, which were really ropes, and all the way to the end of the Asbury University Challenge Course’s low ropes activities.

“I gained the knowledge of how to lead a little bit better,” he said, “but also, it was really fun in the process.”

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The 20 9th-graders started the day by dividing into teams and playing games that required cooperation, creative thinking, and even frenzied gestures when talking was not allowed. The students then followed their challenge course guides into the ropes area, where they balanced the entire group on a large seesawing platform, helped each other walk along ropes suspended above the ground, and even made it through the crisscrossing ropes that represented laser security at a bank.

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The visit to the challenge course was part of an ongoing leadership training program run by Berea College’s GEAR UP partnership with Rockcastle County schools. The students were selected by teachers, administrators and community members because they showed promise as future leaders. Last spring, the group met leaders from other schools participating in Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership on the college’s campus. There, they defined leadership and began the process of forming their team at the local level, but also found themselves part of a bigger, regional group of young leaders.

Linda Stone, the GEAR UP service coordinator for Rockcastle County, said that the training was part of a plan to get the students working together. “This would give us an opportunity to give these kids an experience where maybe they weren’t always comfortable,” she said. “Blindfolding a student who is very comfortable taking control and always being in charge, and then they have to be led, is instrumental to helping create that team and helping them see that everybody has a voice and has the opportunity to lead in that group.”

Juliann Kirby saw her fellow 9th-graders change from her competitors to her teammates over the course of the day. “At first everybody just assumed it was part of a competition, since there were two teams,” she said. “But later on you realized that you had to depend upon each other to get by.”

Kirby said she even appreciated being asked to do something she would not normally do. “It got everybody out of their comfort zone, having to be with others,” she said. “And when you’d open your mouth and say something, then you’d always find a way to get some kind of positive feedback.”

Stone says that the leadership training will be integral in helping meet GEAR UP’s objectives of increasing high school graduation rates and preparing students for college and career success. “We know that students have a voice. And they listen to their peers,” she said. “Their goal will really be to make college something that every student is going to strive for. Not just the students that everybody thinks will go to college, but all students will be focused on ‘What am I doing when I get out of here?’ ‘Where am I going when I graduate high school?’”

Woodall feels ready for his new role as a student leader. “I learned here that it’s okay to speak your mind as a leader, and that it’s easy once you get to know the people around you.” He has come a long way since he was blindfolded and trapped by lasers. “I really didn’t think I would be cut out to be a leader, but it’s really not that hard, when you think about it.”

To find out more about GEAR UP in Rockcastle County, contact Linda Stone at (859) 985-5118, or Linda_Stone@berea.edu.

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