Finding their grip

Students at Oakdale climb their way to fitness fun on new wall

From left Max Pittman, Savana Petty, and Ron Marneky make their way across the rock wall at Oakdale Heights.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
From left Max Pittman, Savana Petty, and Ron Marneky make their way across the rock wall at Oakdale Heights.

DALLAS — Max Pittman was determined to get to the end of the rock wall.

A first-grader at Dallas’ Oakdale Heights Elementary School, he carefully picked out his route on the wall — with some help from Oakdale Heights Principal Caleb Harris.

“Move your right hand here,” Harris said pointing to a grip right above Max’s head. “There you go. Nice adjustment.”

In a few seconds, Max found his way to the end of wall and jumped down triumphantly.

Mission accomplished.

When asked if it was difficult Max said “no,” but added he has fun using the wall during class.

Max’s favorite part? “Just climbing,” naturally.

The rock wall, installed earlier this spring, is the newest addition to the school’s physical education classes.

It’s proving popular with the students, even rivaling the perennial favorite climbing rope among the fitness stations in the gym, Harris said.

It’s not a vertical challenge due to safety concerns — no harnesses are required — but it still tests students’ coordination and strength as they “climb” from side to side.

The wall has yellow, green and blue colored grips, which can add to the difficulty depending on the task, and two corners to navigate.

Physical Education teacher Jon Petersen can add temporary obstacles — such as hula-hoops to crawl through — or challenge students to use only certain colored grips to find their way across to make the activity even more interesting.

Harris said he began working on building the rock wall after visiting Independence Elementary School in Independence for his daughter’s gymnastics class.

The school already had a wall, and he thought it might make for a fun fitness station to add something similar to Oakdale’s gym.

He applied for a “gym enhancement” grant from Lowe’s to pay for the installation.

With donated engineering by Dallas resident Greg Locke and painting by local artist Kev Kohler, the rock wall was completed by the time students returned from spring break in March.

Petersen and Harris know first-hand the types of obstacles the kids are facing on the wall; they tested it themselves before opening it to students to make sure the degree of difficulty was appropriate for the age group. Harris said it’s not as easy as it may look.

“There was some quality testing,” Harris said, smiling.

Harris and Petersen already have phase II of the rock wall in mind. They would like to expand the wall at least 20 feet to give more students a chance to climb across.

Now, only four students can use the wall at one time.

“We would like to be able to have eight on it at once,” Harris said. “That is the goal.”

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