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It’s a Co-op Effort: Help Is Always There In RMS P.E. Classes

  • From left, Richmond Middle School students Peter Bynum, Beaven Ankner-Edelstein, and Hayden Smith put harnesses on before rope climbing in their phyisical education class on April 3, 2014 in Hanover, N.H. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    From left, Richmond Middle School students Peter Bynum, Beaven Ankner-Edelstein, and Hayden Smith put harnesses on before rope climbing in their phyisical education class on April 3, 2014 in Hanover, N.H. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • On April 3, 2014, Richmond Middle School teacher Catherine Patch instructs student Dina Hertog-Raz before she starts her rope climb. Student at the Hanover, N.H., school are working in a "cooperation unit" for their physical education class.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    On April 3, 2014, Richmond Middle School teacher Catherine Patch instructs student Dina Hertog-Raz before she starts her rope climb. Student at the Hanover, N.H., school are working in a "cooperation unit" for their physical education class. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Students at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H., on April 3, 2014 practice rope climbing in class. Teacher Catherine Patch watches while students climb from left, Kai Renshaw, Maya Lynn, and Brendan Dufty. On the floor are Peter Bynum and Ben Parrado.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Students at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H., on April 3, 2014 practice rope climbing in class. Teacher Catherine Patch watches while students climb from left, Kai Renshaw, Maya Lynn, and Brendan Dufty. On the floor are Peter Bynum and Ben Parrado. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, Richmond Middle School students Peter Bynum, Beaven Ankner-Edelstein, and Hayden Smith put harnesses on before rope climbing in their phyisical education class on April 3, 2014 in Hanover, N.H. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • On April 3, 2014, Richmond Middle School teacher Catherine Patch instructs student Dina Hertog-Raz before she starts her rope climb. Student at the Hanover, N.H., school are working in a "cooperation unit" for their physical education class.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Students at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H., on April 3, 2014 practice rope climbing in class. Teacher Catherine Patch watches while students climb from left, Kai Renshaw, Maya Lynn, and Brendan Dufty. On the floor are Peter Bynum and Ben Parrado.  Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Physical education classes at Richmond Middle School are constantly uncovering new and creative ways for students to work in unison.

This academic quarter, students in grades 6 through 8 this academic quarter have been immersed in a portion of the curriculum known as the “Cooperation Games Unit,” a series of group challenges and activities administered by fourth-year Richmond gym teacher Catherine Patch.

After spending the previous quarter performing circus-inspired activities such as juggling and hula hoop, recent classes have featured climbing exercises on both walls and ropes. The courses emphasize communication and trust-building as students help their peers stay safe while engaging in what Patch calls “healthy risks.”

A former multi-sport standout at Lebanon High School, Patch enjoys this section of the curriculum as an alternative to traditional team sports such as field hockey and basketball.

“Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the importance of team sports as well,” said Patch, a 2003 Lebanon graduate who went on to earn bachelor’s and masters degrees at the University of New Hampshire. “One of the reasons I wanted to become a P.E. teacher was because of learning to play field hockey with (teacher Linda Preston) at Lebanon Middle School.

“I just love the cooperation activities because I like how it’s kind of a great equalizer. With ball sports, sometimes you’ve got some kids who play for youth-level teams outside of school and they’re a lot more experienced than the kids who are just learning it. When it comes to things like climbing, most of the time everyone is on the same level and they’re just figuring out how to work well as a group.”

Students spent several weeks earlier in the quarter going over safety measures such as securing harnesses and important call-and-command prompts.

Students also spent time immersed in fun games such as “Popper Tag” — a tag game involving the use of noodles — and “Pass the Question,” where students get to know each other using questions chosen by their peers.

“These kinds of activities kind of get people to work towards goals and understand that there’s more than just competition that’s important in physical education,” said Patch.

In a class last week, a group consisting of seventh- and eighth-graders warmed up on their own by running laps around the gym before preparing for the ropes. Patch introduced a Prussic knot rope, which contains several loops and a sliding knot. Patch encouraged students to use the loops as anchors or to grab the rope with their toes in order to avoid exhaustion from overusing the arms.

After going through the safety checklists, several students took turns trying out the Prussic set-up. Others rotated through ascensions of another rope by way of an “Australian belay,” where the climber’s weight is supported by a group of peers all latched in to a flower-shaped apparatus.

“It’s pretty easy,” said seventh-grader Ben Abbatiello while helping to guide classmate Claire Austin-Washburn to the ceiling. “You just have to make sure everything’s connected and watch where they are (on the rope).”

Catie Westling, who followed Patch’s instruction and used her toes to help get to the top of the Prussic rope, enjoys the cooperative aspects of class.

“It kind of forces you to trust people you might not otherwise get to know,” the eighth-grader from Norwich said. “I don’t really have a lot of friends who are sixth-graders, but in a class like this you get to know some of them. Then you see them in the hallway and you’re like, ‘There’s my guy.’ You don’t really get that same kind of thing when you play kickball and things like that.”

Patch was particularly impressed with the students’ designing their own climbing-wall routes with the use of colored tape.

“It’s not that easy to do, and they were so creative,” the teacher said. “I was so proud of them for making courses that were challenging, but not impossible.”

Robbie Barnum, an eighth-grader, plays team sports such as football and lacrosse outside of school, but he’s glad his P.E. class makes use of other activities. He especially enjoyed the “circus” activities during the previous quarter, when he honed his juggling and hula hoop skills.

“It was a lot of fun,” the Hanover resident said. “If you’re stuck inside in the winter, it’s the best kind of stuff you can do.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.