They climb. They swing. They crawl. And when they are finished maneuvering through the brown vines and tall leafy palms of the jungle, they head back to class.
At Miller Avenue Elementary School in Shoreham, a longstanding tradition called Whittle Gym is in full effect.
Each year, physical education teachers Josh Bonventre and Teresa Chambel, with the help of parent volunteers and members of the Parent Teacher Association, assemble the brightly colored obstacle course around the entire school gymnasium.
This year the course has a jungle theme. The gymnasium walls are covered in jungle scenes, paper monkeys hang from vines that weave around the equipment and scenes from “The Jungle Book” play on a projector.
During class, students make their way over tall metal A-frames and across a large yellow rope wall. They perfect their balance while walking a wooden plank, and they crawl carefully over arched ladders that connect different pieces of the course.
“It’s an incredible unit,” said principal Louis Parrinello. “The children are completely engaged from the time they come in to the time they leave.”
Bonventre said Whittle Gym presents many lessons to the students. The obstacles are physically challenging, so the students build muscular strength; and it offers them experience in problem solving and critical thinking, as they repeat the course over a three-week period and strive to do better each time.
“Every piece is different, some are higher, some are lower, some of them have arches,” he said, and they also change the course throughout the three weeks. “The kids have to stop and think how exactly to get across that piece, and that’s where the confidence comes in because once they do that the first time they are able to build on that and get better and better.”
Check back with LI Now later today for a video of the kids climbing and to hear what some students have to say about the experience.
Photo: Fourth-grader Darcee Mullins climbs across a rope wall in the Whittle Gym at Miller Avenue Elementary School in Shoreham. (March 14, 2011)