The Saratoga Sun -

Rising to the challenge


Rick Martin

Encampment students participate in "Jail Break", a game created to help build positive communication skills among students.

New games aim to build communication, team-building skills at Encampment School

When the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies take on the Milky Ways and other teams, competition can get fierce.

"The games are extremely competitive, so our class gets way into it," said Encampment School senior Kaylyn Wessel, a member of the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies.

Since the beginning of the 2013/14 school year, Encampment School seniors have gathered in small groups and competed to earn as many points as possible.

Although competitive in nature, the games were not designed to pit students against each other, said Encampment School Counselor Deborah Burke. The games were created to boost morale through promoting positive communication.

"Our class gets really into it, which makes it really fun," Wessel said. "I think it helps us bond."

Burke said she and Library Media Specialist Rick Martin recognized a need to boost morale among students at the end of last year.

"Morale was just down in our district, and we sensed that with our students and we thought we really needed to bring back team work, positive communication and positive thinking," she said. "Mr. Martin and I met and we were knocking our heads together and we were thinking. ...We were trying to figure out how we could meet the social and emotional needs of our students."

After brainstorming, Burke and Martin devised the Tiger Challenge, a program allowing students to compete in small teams for 20 minutes each month.

The Tiger Challenge was an in-house project, Burke said, but is part of a larger program called Students Together are Researching Success, or "STARS".

"STARS is something that, as a staff, we talked about last year," Burke said.

Last year, the STARS program gave students the opportunity to work in smaller groups with teachers, providing more one-on-one time for each student. This year, the Tiger Challenge is an added component, but focusing more on fulfilling emotional needs.

"Last year it was just a homework time where teachers could work one-on-one with students," Burke said. "This year we have that same component, but once a month they take time to work on enforcing positive communication."

What is truly unique about the Tiger Challenge, Burke said, is that it mixes students of different ages and skill levels, and puts them in scenarios where they must work together.

"It encourages them to step out of their safety box and do things with other students they may not socialize with on a daily basis," Burke said.

Encampment School has organized three Tiger Challenge activities so far, the first being called "Jail Break" where students were faced with an "unsightly" challenge.

"We blind-folded all the team members except one, and each team had to go through an obstetrical course," Martin said. "They didn't know where they were going or what they were doing, so the first person had to communicate and lead them."

Burke said the activity forced some students out of their comfort zone.

"There were some kids that it was hard for them to physically touch. That was uncomfortable for them. But that is what we wanted them to do. We wanted them to get them out of their comfort zone," Burke said.

Encampment School senior Lacy Dale said participating in the games has helped her be more comfortable around others. "I have a bubble, and I don't like people in my bubble, and it was uncomfortable," Dale said. "But once I started doing the challenge, it didn't bother me as much."

Wessel said she also felt closer to students, and liked to talk to others she normally wouldn't see.

After each challenge, the teams meet in their STARS group to talk about the challenge, Burke said.

"The next day the STARS groups get together and debrief," Burke said. "They talk about what worked well, what didn't work well and what they could do better next time to be more successful."

The games also have added incentive, with an award promised to the team with the most points, Burke said.

"Every month, they are earning points as a team, and at the end of the year, the team with the most points will get an award," she said.


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