Originally published Sept. 10, 2019 in the Estes Park Trail Gazette.

Move over traditional team sports. Make way for kayaking, paddle boarding, rock climbing and mini-golf.

These are just a few of the activities that students enrolled in the adventure education class at Estes Park High School get to take advantage of this year.

Estes Park Trail Gazette photo

The class, which was piloted last year and was so successful that it doubled in size this year, was the brainchild of Tony Stafford, a teacher and cross country coach at EPHS.

He said he had the idea to create the class because he wanted to be innovative and do something different than what he saw other school districts doing when it came to physical education.

“When kids come to high school, they’ve been doing the same sports-related activities like football and basketball,” Stafford said. “So what I wanted to do was give the high school kids a different offering that maybe they haven’t done before with more non-traditional sports.”

This week, students in the class wrapped up their bocce ball unit. Next, they move on to disc golf and eventually rock climbing.

Stafford said an important aspect of the course is that 90% of it is outdoor-based learning.

“I wanted to use the surroundings of Estes Park since people travel all over the world to come here,” he said. “I thought it was a good way to expose these kids to the reason why we get a lot of people coming from all over the place, and that’s to explore Estes Park.”

Not only does the class participate in alternative sports, but they go hiking and sledding, too.

Jeff Collins, assistant principal and athletic director at EPHS, said that he’s grateful to be in a school district that values providing positive and engaging learning experiences outside of the classroom.

“It’s great to see so much student interest in the course and that students get to do things that they may not on their own,” Collins said. “I hope this course helps students find activities that our students can enjoy for their lifetimes.”

Because almost every class session is facilitated outside, most of which are at off-campus locations, the size of the class is capped at 14 students. That’s not only so Stafford can keep tabs on each student but also because the bus Stafford drives the class around in only holds 14 students.

But since last year’s pilot course was so popular among students, over 30 kids wanted to enroll in it this year.

“It more than doubled in size,” Stafford said of the effectiveness of word of mouth from students who took the course last year. “So they had to open up two sections for me, which is great.”

To grade students in this non-traditional class format, Stafford employs quizzes and formative assessments. On Monday, students took an oral quiz about bocce ball before wrapping up that unit. But while they were actually playing bocce ball in the class periods leading up to that quiz, Stafford was actively observing their progress.

“The cool thing about this is that everyone is on a different skill level,” he said. “So with a formative assessment, I just want to see some progress.”

At the end of the semester, Stafford issues the students a reflection paper, which acts as their final exam. These responses help shape the future curriculum of the course.

Based on the responses he’s already received, he said the students are loving it, and that’s apparent by the striking increase in its enrollment this year.

“These are just the types of things that are fun to do and are very engaging,” he said of the nine activities that students will participate in this semester. “It’s a good problem to have kids that already took the class who want to keep taking it. So far it’s been awesome.”

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