MIDDLETON — Before this school year, seventh-grader Shawn Levin wasn’t much of a morning person.
That all changed last month when Middleton Middle School unveiled a new outdoor “ninja warrior” climbing and obstacle course that school officials say is likely the first of its kind in Idaho.
Now, Shawn and his sister, sixth-grader Jamie Levin, can’t wait to get out of bed and rush off to school.
That’s because if they get there early before the first bell, they can run, jump, climb and swing their way through the course’s different obstacles with friends.
“It’s a like a parkour course and it’s built to be very difficult,” Shawn said. “The one point of this is to keep trying and never give up.”
“Honestly, it’s challenging to a lot of people, but for some people it comes easier because of sports,” said Jaime, who loves the climbing sections best. “It’s just a fun activity for all the students here.”
The course was inspired by the popular NBC competition show “American Ninja Warrior.”
Principal Diana Wold and Superintendent Sherawn Reberry said the Middleton Middle School community spent four years raising money to buy and build the obstacle course. Students and parents voted on different designs and colors. The project culminated with a community build earlier this fall where teachers, students, local Boy Scouts, PTO members and patrons banded together to finish the project. School board members pushed in wheelbarrows of cement, while seventh-graders helped spread soft bark along the ground.
“When the semi pulled up full of parts, we had 150 kids out here unloading it piece-by-piece,” Wold said.
It’s a simple thing, but Wold said it has instantly transformed the school.
“There is tons of excitement, they actually stop me in the halls and say, ‘thank you,’” Wold said.
Now that the course is open and running, Reberry and Wold are developing strategies to use it to increase student engagement. According to the State Department of Education, Middleton Middle School has one of the highest levels of student engagement at any Idaho middle school, with 61.4 percent of students engaged with school. That beat the overall K-12 state average of 52.6 percent.
Reberry said the ninja course fits right in with research that shows play and healthy stimulation can have a positive impact on student learning.
So far, Wold said the course provides a sort of intrinsic motivation — they recognize it is a special treat for their school and they are just glad it’s there.
“They’re not on their phones; there are a hundred kids on (the ninja warrior course) every day instead of their phones and they are having fun and challenging each other,” Wold said.
“It’s just one piece showing how Middleton is really a community of everyone all working together,” Reberry said.
There have even been a couple moments of comic relief. The week they opened the ninja warrior course, Wold got word a school resource officer decided to put his own skills to the test. And the school nurse reported an increase in visits after students became puzzled by the blisters developed during long sessions swinging, climbing and laughing with friends.
“The kids and parents did every little piece of this, and it is theirs to enjoy for a long time,” Wold said.
So, what’s next for Middleton? Reberry said the next fundraiser will likely be directed toward installing a wheelchair swing to make the course more accessible to more children.