Fifth graders in the Bryan school district will have a new opportunity this year that will allow them to venture into nearby parks and push their limits on a ropes course as part of their curriculum.

District employees completed their training Friday, and students will begin participating later this semester.

As the students get involved, Rayburn Intermediate School fifth grade English language arts teacher Haley Walker said, she hopes they find something that interests them and that will help them engage with school and with each other.

Using herself as an example, Walker said she was scared to even begin climbing to walk across the log on the high-elements during Friday’s training, but ultimately she pushed on and completed the course.

“I set a goal for myself, and I didn’t want to stop, but I did have to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said, highlighting the encouragement she had from the other six Bryan educators supporting her on the ground. “If they would have just said, ‘Yeah, come down, Haley,’ I would have come down, but they were there, not making me do it, but pushing me to go a little bit farther outside of my comfort zone.”

As part of the new program, district personnel who underwent training at Texas A&M’s ChallengeWorks on Friday and over the summer will facilitate low-level activities at nearby parks before the students spend half a day at ChallengeWorks in Bryan on the higher elements. ChallengeWorks staff will lead the ropes course activities.

“It’s all about doing something that they didn’t think they could do,” ChallengeWorks Program Director Bob Gantt said about the high-elements portion.

By spending that half-day on the ropes course, Walker said, she hopes her students and all the fifth graders are challenged and gain confidence.

Gantt said he celebrates what the students are able to do, even if that means not doing the ropes course.

“Being able to say no in a group of your peers is just as powerful as saying yes, because everybody else is doing it,” he said. “I would rather them say, ‘No, I don’t need to do that,’ or ‘I don’t like to do that, and I don’t want to do that.’ Great. Will you still be on the team? Will you still take care of others? Sure. As long as they still stay engaged and involved, then I’m ecstatic. I just want them to be as much a part of the team as they can and to grow.”

In addition to the low-level and high-element activities, Executive Director of School Leadership Brian Merrell said, there are also pre- and post-activity discussions and lessons the students will do in their classrooms. For example, the students will be prompted in language arts to think about examples of times when they, for example, were challenged, collaborated, were afraid or challenged to do something beyond themselves.

Fifth graders’ ability to enjoy the experiences and handle the accompanying conversations is why the district chose to target fifth grade, Merrell said.

Now that all the facilitators at the district have gone through the training at ChallengeWorks, he said, the goal is to have the first students participate at the end of October or early November, depending on the weather.

Both Eric Hoglund, Long Intermediate School PE coach, and Ryan Bryant, behavior specialist at the school, noted school is sometimes the only way students get to have these types of experiences.

“For me, I know it was very life-changing,” Hoglund said about similar opportunities he had in school. “… I think it will just go beyond the activities, but it will go into their home lives and help them in areas at school as well. Building connections, friendships, relationships, learning more about themselves.”

For more information on ChallengeWorks, go to or contact Gantt at

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