Literacy project puts the writing on the wall
Through the It’s Time to Climb project, students gain confidence, which translates into improvements at school. Photo by Thomas Scherer
Being a teenager ain’t easy. Being a teenager who’s different – from another country, say – is exponentially harder. Barriers of language, culture, and race can make it difficult to succeed socially as well as academically.
To help the students at one school in the Bavarian town of Fürth – 65 percent of whom are from immigrant families – the Rotary Club of Fürth put up one more obstacle: a 30-foot-high climbing wall. The project, called It’s Time to Climb, is one of 100 literacy efforts that clubs are carrying out in District 1880 as part of a three-year initiative.
“Literacy is basically a question of motivation. We have to first get teens excited about learning,” says Past District Governor Peter Iblher. “Climbing offers risks and challenges that students crave.”
Hauptschule Maistraße is an upper elementary school whose students range in age from 10 to 16. Many come from difficult family situations that can include drug addiction, violence, and chronic unemployment. The climbing wall provides an outlet for them and boosts self-confidence, coordination, and communication skills. In the words of one student: “Not only have I learned about my own physical potential, but I’ve also had the opportunity to make new friends whom I will always rely on.”
The program uses a climbing wall at a nearby fitness center; the club raised €2,800 to purchase equipment and train teachers and other staff members in safe climbing techniques. The teachers donate their time to help students during weekly two-hour sessions. “We are highly impressed by the course’s popularity and the positive effect it’s had on our students’ enthusiasm toward their classes,” says teacher Bernd Günther.
More than 75 schools are benefiting from the district’s literacy initiative, known as Schule: Sprungbrett in die Zukunft (School: Launching Pad to the Future). The district surveyed schools to identify their most critical problems and invited them to propose projects; the most promising ideas were recommended to Rotary clubs. “The response was enormous,” Iblher says, noting that many clubs developed additional activities to complement the projects.
To ensure consistency and sustainability, district governors from three successive years, 2008-09 through 2010-11, coordinated their efforts. “We couldn’t confine this project to just one Rotary year. It takes time to develop an idea, obtain the necessary information and cooperation, and develop a budget,” says Iblher.
It’s Time to Climb has been so successful that the Hauptschule Maistraße has approached the Fürth club about installing a climbing wall at the entrance of its new school building, slated to open this year. Club member Karsten Medla says the club is looking for additional funding to meet the estimated €15,000 cost.