Originally created 06/29/01

Course gives students test of character

AIKEN - Julia Maney held on for dear life and squealed as she clung to the top of the 42-foot light pole.

Fifteen of her schoolmates cheered below her, shading their eyes as they squinted from the safety of solid ground.

Now all she had to do was jump.

Through donations of numerous local organizations and companies, South Aiken High School installed the newest element Tuesday to its Character Course, which builds confidence and team building skills, said teacher Kathy Carlyle. Julia, 16, and other members of Silver Bluff's Key Club were the first to try the new facility.

The newest feature is a 42-foot pole with metal climbing rungs in front of two 46-foot poles with wire stretched between them. On a wire, five feet from the climbing pole, a trapeze hangs innocently - 46 feet in the air.

The challenge issued: Climb the 42-foot pole and stand on top of it. Of course, safety harnesses were attached to the participants, said Tom Chumley, a trained facilitator. He stood below, guiding the rope that they were attached to - the same rope that would catch them if they fell.

"Jumping from the top of the pole to the trapeze is the brass ring for these kids. Getting to the top is the challenge. Jumping is the reward," Mr. Chumley said.

Costs to the schools to use the course are minimal because of grant money and donations from groups such as South Carolina Electric and Gas and the CSRA Community Foundation, which gave nearly $13,000, Ms. Carlyle said.

"We want people to know that this course isn't exclusively for South Aiken students," she said.

Ms. Carlyle said participating in the course gives young people the chance to overcome personal fears.

"The kids cheer each other on. This is an opportunity to get kids supporting one another," said Diane Mangiante, the director of Public Education Partners, a local nonprofit organization that helps enrich the learning of pupils in Aiken County.

Julia said that, even though she was frightened of being up so high, she was given strength from the support of her schoolmates.

After only moments of deliberation, she took a deep breath and stood tall on top of the pole. She spread her arms for balance and jumped, catching the trapeze handle, laughing and triumphant.

Reach Sara Bancroft at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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