The design was chosen for climbers of all ages and abilities.
During a recent physical education class, fourth-graders worked diligently to perfect their climbing skills by traversing — climbing at a designated, developmentally appropriate maximum height without a rope.
Boys and girls approached the wall eagerly and without fear. Classmates watching offered suggestions and encouragement.
Emma Black, 10, said she enjoys the challenge and likes how the pathways expand, offering a variety of options. She also likes the vivid colors of the handholds and footholds.
“It really reminds me of being outdoors, even though we are really inside a basketball gym,” she said. “It’s perfect — like a bowl of hot soup on a cold, rainy day.”
Flint Eller, 9, said students haven’t learned to go very high yet, but he hopes they will.
“I can’t wait to see what it feels like when you get to the top of the wall,” he said. “That’s going to make me feel really good about myself, and I like that feeling.”
Although the students see it as fun and games, the Quaker-based school sees the climbing wall as much more.
Francis Zell, head of the middle school physical education department, said it helps with the winter doldrums when the weather is bad.
“The benefits are a full-body workout, enjoyment, and the mental aspects of setting goals and self-esteem,” he said. “It really helps the students in a variety of ways.”
In addition, it helps by improving motor skills, decision making, risk taking and overcoming fear.
Nate Whitman, a math teacher and head of the school’s outdoor education program, said the wall offers an untraditional activity for students who might not want to play team sports.
“It’s a great way to stay active, but it is still social and involves teamwork,” he said.
Zell added the wall could be used all four seasons, when outdoor facilities on the 140-acre campus are closed.
The school opened a five-acre Adventure Park on the campus in 2010. In what they say is the largest aerial forest adventure park in North America, the facility consists of more than 150 platforms installed in the trees and connected by various configurations of cable, wood and rope to form bridges and zip lines.
Last summer, the school opened the Wildebeest Waterhole, one of only a few licensed natural swim areas in the county.
Zell said that although some children might not want to go outside and get dirty, the climbing wall offers a controlled, air-conditioned setting.
“We start inside, and are then able to connect the dots to our outside curriculum,” Zell said.
Sarah Margolis, school spokeswoman, said the exercise opportunities tie into the school’s overall holistic view of educating children academically, socially and healthwise.
Margolis said the school also strives to provide nutritious meals for the students.
An organic garden on the campus recently has been expanded to grow produce that will be served in the cafeteria and might eventually be offered for sale to the public.
Sandy Spring Friends School lower- and middle-school students have physical education classes three times per week. Upper-school students have several different physical education election options, including an outdoor leadership course that takes advantage of the climbing wall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adolescents and young adults reap many benefits from physical activity — including weight control; reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers; strengthened bones and muscles; and an increased chance of living longer.
The CDC says about 17 percent of children and adolescents between 2 and 19 years old are obese. That rate has tripled since 1980.
“Most of the increase happened prior to 2000, and it was due to children consuming more calories and engaging in less physical activity, CDC spokeswoman Karen Hunter said.
According to CDC’s Web site, well-designed, school-based interventions directed at increasing physical activity in physical education classes have been shown to be effective.