With a little help from my friends; a culture of encouragement | Rick Schulte

I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Over 40 years ago, my swimming lessons at the local municipal pool included learning how to dive from the high board. Kids half my size — and a few years younger than me — excitedly climbed up, took a quick glance around and dove into the water.

Piece of cake, for them. For me, I grew more nervous as it was my turn to climb to the high board.

I finally made it to the top, where I stood quietly. Scared to death. And frozen with fear.

“Come on kid, hurry up.”

It still sticks with me. I was probably never going to be an Olympic swimmer or diver, but moments like that replay in my mind decades later. Imagine how much it did to create a fear of failure, rather than instill a desire to grow.

Taking flight, with the support of classmates

Fast forward to a chilly spring afternoon at Camp Copneconic in Fenton, MI. The middle school students from New Morning School in Plymouth, MI. are in the midst of their annual spring camping trip. It’s an overnight stay, with a wide variety of events designed to not only entertain the students, but to help them grow.

Middle school students take a safety pledge before using the zip line.

Among the activities is zip line trip across a ravine in the midst of the wilderness. Trees all around, with the line extending about 100 yards over trees and a stream.

As the students were carefully placed in their harnesses and outfitted with helmets, it was apparent some students were more excited about climbing up the steps, looking out over the wilderness and taking a leap of faith, literally and figuratively.

Not everyone felt comfortable trying the zip line. Instead of suiting up and flying over the ravine, one student took some nice pictures of his classmates zooming overhead. Others weren’t exactly bounding up the steps for their turn, either, allowing ‘cuts’ to move one or two spaces back in line.

One reached the top and started feeling a bit of trepidation. He wanted to go down the line. But a bigger part of him didn’t want to go. So he descended back down the steps.

What stuck with me is what happened next:

Nothing. No one yelling ‘hurry up, kid.’

I could have used that all those years ago.

“Come on, you can do it!”

NMS students take flight with a zip line.
NMS students take flight with a zip line.

Each student had the opportunity to go down the line. Many hammed it up, spinning, waving their arms or yelling as they flew over their classmates.

And finally, the one student who climbed back down earlier re-emerged. He climbed back up, looked around and listened to words of encouragement.

“Come on, you can do it!”

And they chanted his name, until he leaned away from the platform and began to glide over his classmates…who cheered for him for every foot of the journey.

“Typically, a lot of our students like to challenge themselves with the support of their classmates,” said Cheryl Blau, a middle school teacher whose classes have been making the annual trip the Camp Copneconic for five years. “And it’s just a really, really fun time.”

It’s also a great opportunity to feel comfortable and safe while trying your best, even if you are uncomfortable climbing up that platform.

Rick Schulte, who has somewhat conquered his fear of heights, is the Communications and Marketing Director for New Morning School, Plymouth MI. He can be reached at rick@newmorningschool.com.