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A traverse rock climbing wall is adding a new component of physical fitness to gym classes at a Mundelein elementary school.
The $15,000 climbing wall - purchased through a donation to the Fremont Education Foundation - was installed in the gymnasium's stage area at Fremont Intermediate School this winter, and the 52-foot-long wall has since been integrated into physical education curriculum for more than 700 students in third through fifth grades.
The rock wall - made of a laminated multiplex plywood - is scattered with colorful rock-like formations that act as grips for hands and feet, challenging students to use a combination of balance, strength and careful coordination to make their way across without falling.
If someone does happen to fall, the rock wall's horizontal climbing path leaves little risk for injury because the wall is designed so that students' feet never reach a height higher than 3½ feet above the mat-padded floor.
Fremont physical education teacher Corey Sciutto said having the wall has created new opportunities for students to excel in gym class because it presents a unique set of mental and physical challenges that are unlike traditional sports.
"The students absolutely love it," Sciutto said during a Tuesday afternoon gym class while fifth-graders scampered around to eight team-building stations. "Some students shine (on the rock wall) and not in other sports because the wall adds new physical components."
To make it across length of the rock wall, students first start by choosing one of three color-coded paths that range from easy to difficult.
By strategically moving the feet and hands to different rocks of the same color, the climber inches down the wall's length utilizing core physical strength and a focused mind.
Students can climb the wall alone, or as part of a team where their arms are latched together by hula-hoops as three or four students try to move down the wall in unison.
"It adds so much to the P.E. classes because it works the body's muscles much differently than other activities we do in class," Sciutto said. "Many students who aren't athletic in other areas are successful on the rock wall."
Unlike vertically-designed rock walls where climbers are secured with ropes and harnesses as they climb upward toward the ceiling, the traverse wall design lacks the height component and doesn't require the climber to wear safety gear.
Besides a few scrapes and bruises, no injuries have been reported during the past four months since the rock wall was installed, Sciutto said, adding that parents haven't voiced any complaints.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the journey while climbing the rock wall comes about halfway through, when climbers must carefully navigate past an overhang with a 4 percent grade.
Sciutto himself admits he's never actually made it all the way to the end of the wall without his hands slipping off the grips or taking a fall.
One lesson taught by the rock wall, however, is to enjoy the journey instead of being focused on the destination.