This blog is written by Coach Ron Sansone, Director of Athletics at Far Hills Country Day School.
The Far Hills Country Day School Ropes Course, featuring both high and low elements, is an integral part of the Far Hills
experience for every student and graduate. Beginning in Grade 3, the unique and cooperative atmosphere of the Ropes Course fosters confidence and leadership skills by empowering students to make decisions and challenge themselves. Students learn about appropriate risk-taking and supporting and respecting their classmates. Because each element is “challenge by choice,” students also discover that great efforts sometimes feel more important than success or disappointment. These lessons are a tremendous part of the essential social-emotional learning at Far Hills Country Day School.
The Ropes Course on the Far Hills Country Day School campus started in the mid-1980s under the leadership of former Head of School Chuck Scranton. Located right on Far Hills Country Day School’s 54-acre campus, the Ropes Course consists of a series of ropes, cables, and logs combined in high and low elements. These elements help students develop agility, simulate naturally-occurring challenges, and extend leadership skills already taught in our classrooms. Safety and cooperation, individual achievement, and significant bonding among kids and teachers occur as they learn to trust and respect each other.
Complementing the challenge of the Adventure Trips, the Ropes Course program is an integral part of our curriculum, beginning in Grades 3 and 4 on the low elements and culminating in Grades 5 through 8 as they conquer the high elements. The six-year scope of the program provides a climax to the physical education program as students participate and achieve in this rite of passage, involving mental, physical, and emotional risk-taking. Most importantly, students' confidence spills over into other areas—academics, athletics, and real-world decision-making.
“All students experience some form of anxiety with the course,” notes Physical Education teacher Brian Junger. “This is
natural. Seeing them overcome that anxiety over time makes the process wonderful to witness and for the student to experience. And that confidence stays with them and touches everything they do.”
Teacher and faculty belayer, Kathy Iuliano, echoes that sentiment, “I am always so impressed at what happens when a class takes on the challenges. Most of the students can climb up any of the poles and take on the various elements. Those who have a hard time always find a classmate reaching out to help, giving advice, and supporting them. I have seen some truly life-altering experiences happen on the course.”
“Our main goal is for these kids to cooperate, problem-solve, and work together,” notes former Director of Physical Education Linda Houghland. “You have to put someone before yourself when you are out on the Ropes Course, and that can be a tough thing to do when you’re in third grade. We work hard to break down any boy-girl or athlete versus non-athlete barriers, and the Ropes Course offers a very effective way to do that and more.”
Each year, Grades 5 through 8 head out to the course for a full day of programming and high element challenges that unify each grade. Faculty and administration belayers report that, with each time out on the course, the students gain more confidence and leave the course planning what challenges they’ll overcome the following year. For some, the goal may be standing atop the pamper pole or navigating the catwalk, and for others, it may be tackling a partner climb or the hourglass.
“The goal-setting process is alive and well on the ropes course. There is nothing more gratifying than to watch a faculty member and fellow students cheering classmates as they overcome their fear and take a risk they would never have otherwise imagined taking,” notes Junger.
Alumni Board President and current FHCDS Parent Bob Mueller ’81 summed it up best in a letter he wrote about the course during our seventy-fifth-anniversary celebrations back in 2004: “The ropes course was an invaluable piece of my education here at FHCDS. It taught me how to work with others in a way that could not be matched in the classroom. Whether it was climbing the wall or one of the high elements, the ropes course gave me the opportunity to cooperate, strategize, and rely on my classmates. At the end of the day, participants realized that pulling your own weight provided you the opportunity to be successful not only as an individual but as a team. These essential lessons fostered an unparalleled sense of accomplishment in every student.”
Here’s what some Far Hills Country Day School students have to say about the Ropes Course:
“One of the most unique and fulfilling experiences Far Hills offers is its extensive ropes course. Shrouded by glowing leaves of green, the elements of the unconventional classroom blend almost seamlessly with trees that dare students to reach the clouds. The course presents a series of obstacles to overcome, with each reaching great heights. Belayed by teachers and uplifted by peers’ encouragement, the thick ropes challenge students’ motivation and determination more directly than any lesson could. Participants derive as much or as little as they choose, with the number of elements attempted entirely self-determined. Despite any outcomes, the friendly faces and voices below offer nothing but support. The day is challenging, but the gratification of conquering an element previously rendered unconquerable buttresses students’ self-esteem long after they bid farewell to the course.” – Josselyn W., ‘22
“As an eighth-grader who experienced the ropes course hands-on, along with many other people in the grade, it was an astonishing encounter to feel the outdoors, work your body, and have fun all in one. To the other students and children doing the ropes course, it builds team bonding, trust, and self-encouragement. Many kids may first go to the ‘Flying Squirrel,’ and I'll admit, I wanted to do that first myself, too. It may look the most fun or entertaining, but the most important to do for me would be the Climbing Wall. This element helps build both upper and lower body strength and self-confidence. The ropes course was one of the most exciting experiences I had overcome in my time, and I hope other grades below me honor and treasure this memory as much as I do.” – Jenny V. ‘22.
“I love it [the Ropes Course] and think it's great. Why do I love it? Because I don't usually get to do these kinds of things! I also love the thrill and joy of being up there! Being up on the Ropes Course has also taught me a thing or two. First of all, I had no idea there was a thing called "belaying." Second of all, the thrill of being up there builds on my courage and my trust in the belayers (the ones who hold my harnesses), and, as an added bonus, I get to practice these sorts of things if I ever need to escape by a tightrope! These experiences are where you learn life lessons! If I were to compare it to something, it's like an amusement park. You wait in line until your turn until it comes. And then the Ropes Course at Far Hills elicits feelings of joy, thrill, and excitement—all you would feel at an amusement park. My favorite element that I've tried so far is the Leap of Faith, with probably the Flying Squirrel as runner-up. Like I've said many times before, the thrill is amazing and turns something you might be second-guessing into something that you'd think, ‘Let's do this again!’ I love where you have to maneuver your way on platforms and ropes, and while the Leap of Faith is thrilling, the ropes are fun. It's like video game parkour in real life with real-life aspects like swinging platforms!” – Jayden L. ‘23.
Far Hills Country Day School is proud to offer the unique, fully supervised Ropes Course program. We look forward to continuing to make memories while learning important life lessons.