- Cherry Creek School District No. 5
Joliet students learn through adventure education
Anne Kalfas, a social worker at the Joliet Learning Center, knows how the power of outdoor education including things like skiing, high-ropes courses, and river rafting can transform a student’s life.
The Joliet Learning Center, designed to meet the needs of middle school and high school students with significant emotional disabilities, has been integrating adventure education into its curriculum for years. Kalfas and her colleagues recently took a group of students to the Keystone Ski Resort for a day of lessons, learning and laughter. The Joliet Learning Center also had an opportunity to take the entire school on a full day field trip to the CCSD high ropes course early in the year.
“Watching these kids get out of their element is incredible,” Kalfas said. “We see significant growth and change in a short duration of time, sometimes even more than we see from traditional talk therapy.”
Kalfas and her colleagues began an adventure education curriculum five years ago, focusing on programs and activities that would foster teamwork, communication, and problem solving. Kalfas was also recently awarded a wellness grant from the district that allowed her to expand the adventure education curriculum. From a Debrief Ball to metaphor cards, activities that get kids moving and thinking outside the box have been transformative.
“Hands-on learning is so meaningful for students,” Kalfas shared. “It is incredibly difficult to focus on a math or history lesson when your social-emotional needs aren’t being met. By including these activities, we give students a chance to practice the skills they need now and will need in the future.”
The program helps students to identify their physical and emotional comfort zones and healthy approaches to grow beyond them. This can help students who are often more quiet or reserved find ways to grow in ways that feel safer for them. Other students that Kalfas has worked with who previously engaged in high-risk behaviors find that adventure education gives them a way to meet those needs in a socially acceptable way.
“Adventure therapy or experiential education cultivates teamwork and group cohesion in a more palatable way for kids who might have trouble building relationships,” Kalfas explained. “We have so much fun and have greatly appreciated the grants we have received to fund activities like skiing as many students have never experienced that and may not have those opportunities elsewhere.”