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Teamwork key for Duquesne 6th-graders in Auberle course

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Duquesne sixth-grader Amnia'sha Zanders is cheered on by classmates as she tries the rope swing during Auberle's Therapeutic Challenge Course on Friday.

Duquesne sixth-graders took a Friday field trip to Auberle's McKeesport campus for team-building exercises that challenged them to be stronger students and better friends.

Auberle's Therapeutic Challenge Course, open to students and corporate groups, promotes trust and respect through adventure. It challenges individuals to expand their personal boundaries and increase their own independence while allowing the whole group to flourish.

“Every group has positive feedback,” challenge course manager Jen Murphy said. “Sometimes they tell us they've learned to talk to their classmates or learned to work together. Others will take it a lot further and say they've learned to express their emotions or to trust other people.”

Martina Vitalbo, student services coordinator at Duquesne City School District, said the program is beneficial to students because it enhances the district's approach to education.

“If children have social and emotional issues, they become a barrier to their own learning and to others,” Vitalbo explained. “We try to focus on the child holistically to make sure they are able to learn.”

Friday's program included ice-breakers and challenges that encouraged students to cooperate and solve problems by completing tasks within games. By detangling ropes, balancing on obstacle courses and mapping a landing pattern from a swing, they exercised their minds and communication skills.

Students recognized that teamwork was key.

“It's fun and challenging,” student Nauhdya Miller said. “The team doesn't work when some people don't want to do it. When people don't work together, you don't get things done.”

Auberle's therapeutic activities coordinator Ralph Wagley said a group that cares about its individual members has better luck when completing a task as a team.

“Care for others is the theme today,” he said. “That's what we're working on, and these kids seem to care about one another.”

Friday's group of more than 30 students is the largest Auberle's had on the Therapeutic Challenge Course in one session. While the size of the group proved challenging at times, students pulled together and had fun.

Deona Hollis, who participated in the challenge with her fifth-grade class last year, was happy to be back.

“It's fun two years in a row,” she said. “There are a lot of activities. You learn something new every time.”

Auberle hosts outside groups and uses the Therapeutic Challenge Course with its own program participants to improve outcomes for at-risk youth. The agency aligned its adventure-based counseling with research that ties such programs with improved self-esteem and students' realization that they are in control of their own behavior.

“The skills taught here have an exciting benefit for our students,” Vitalbo said. “They need to work with a cooperative spirit. They need to learn how to trust each other. They need to learn when to be assertive and when to hold back and let others take the lead.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956,or