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Facilitator trainees discover skills on adventure course

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The “elements” are coming together as Bethel College’s new Discovery Adventure Course continues to take shape.

June 1-4, a group of a dozen people completed training on the Bethel campus to be adventure course facilitators. “We did soft skills facilitator training, winding up with CPR and first aid,” says Chad Childs, Bethel vice president for student life. “This workshop built on the technical skills training we completed with Tom Leahy, and moves into various applications specific to our course and elements.”

In January, Tom Leahy of Leahy & Associates, Lafayette, Colo., was on campus to direct construction of the course and provide technical training – acquainting potential facilitators with each element, how it was constructed and how it could be used.

In the soft skills training, the facilitators learned “how to facilitate and process the different elements, activities and games,” Childs says. “We [went] through each element to try to gain a good idea of what it’s like to experience them [as both participant and facilitator]. At each one, [our trainer] would tell us: ‘Put on your participant’s hat.’ And then: ‘Put on your facilitator’s hat.’”

Trainer for the soft skills workshop as well as two earlier sessions, one on process communication skills and the other on understanding and developing self-efficacy, was Jamie Remsburg of Next Element Consulting LLC, a leadership training group based in Newton.

“Jamie has done an awesome job of tying in and building on what we learned earlier,” Childs says.

“There’s been a lot of work done, and a lot still needs to be done in terms of getting the course ready,” he notes. Student Life staff, plus a number of student volunteers at various times, have put considerable sweat equity into clearing the course areas on Sand Creek Trail and by the athletic department building, Goering Hall, and hauling and spreading wood chips there.

“During the training, we had to get used to the plant life and animal life out there [in the summer],” Childs adds. “But we’re really excited about bringing groups out and having them experience it.”

Adventure education is based on experiential learning and can take place inside or outside the classroom, but often happens by means of an adventure course (also called a challenge course or ropes course). All three terms refer to a collection of obstacles, or elements – on Bethel’s course, most of them are built among trees, with a handful in more open areas. Bethel’s course is almost all “low” elements (close to the ground; the highest structure is a 12-foot wall), including some that are accessible to older adults and participants with physical disabilities.

Adventure course elements challenge participants to come together and work as a team to develop and implement solutions. Each element emphasizes different group characteristics such as self-confidence, communication, cooperation and trust. As groups work through the elements, they learn about themselves and their relationships to others and develop leadership and problem-solving skills.

Discovery Adventure Course facilitators have been trained in developing “self-efficacy” – defined as belief in: power to produce an effect; ability to succeed in specific tasks or situations; subjective judgment of capability to organize and execute a course of action and reach the desired goal or goals.

The 12 people who just completed facilitator training include Next Element staff and two high school and middle school physical education teachers and an adapted PE teacher (for students with special needs) from the Newton school district, along with four Bethel athletic coaches, two members of the Student Life staff and the Business Services staff person who will schedule groups to use the course.

“Another great part of the development of Discovery Adventure Course is the unique partnership with USD 373 teachers, different departments at Bethel College and Next Element,” Childs says. “The synergy between these three communities has made this dream a reality. We are excited to see how this foundation is built upon in the future.”

The hope is for the course to be used by a wide variety of outside groups, from church youth groups and Sunday school classes to athletic teams from area schools and colleges. The initial plans for Bethel use, Childs says, are for sports teams (the golf, soccer, tennis and volleyball coaches all completed facilitator training) and Student Life staff (resident assistants and Student Senate members).

“We’re also working on a pilot program where we’ll have a few groups of students, maybe from a mod or hall, who are interested in going through the course – we can offer the experience to them and use an assessment instrument from Next Element to track what happens and help us tell if [the experience] is successful,” Childs says, adding that the plan is to develop curriculum for making Discovery Adventure Course part of freshman/new student orientation.

Discovery Adventure Course will provide students a venue for “taking safe risks, making informed choices and feeling a sense of accomplishment as a group or team,” Childs says. “These experiences will combine physical and emotional challenges with principles similar to those in nonviolent conflict resolution, leadership development and restorative justice.”

Shirley Dietzel, a campus bookstore employee, says she took the facilitator training with the fairly simple initial goal “to learn what goes on in order to help schedule groups. But this [training] has gone so much deeper and has been so much more than I originally thought.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges profiled in Colleges of Distinction 2009-10. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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