EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 16, 2012

New gym wall crosses curriculum

Students hang out and learn at Hampstead Central

By Dustin Luca dluca@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAMPSTEAD — After years of planning, Hampstead Central School finished upgrades to its gymnasium and cafeteria space last week with the installation of a new climbing wall.

The 40-foot wall, supported mostly by community donations, is now being integrated into the school’s core subjects. Through it, gym classes are now helping reinforce content from other class subjects.

“Math has to be supported everywhere, not just in your math class,” principal Dillard Collins said.

As students from a first-grade class climb across the wall, Collins describes a game physical education teachers are playing with students. It involves reaching out to balls on blue hand-grips, tossing them into buckets near the wall and practicing multiplication tables to see how many points they earned or lost after hitting or missing the shots.

Angie Ingraham, a physical education teacher at the school, uses the lesson with her students.

“They can’t stop their learning in the classroom,” she said. “For something that looks fun for them, it’s educational. We have so many hidden math things.”

Sandy Kwiecien, the school’s other physical education teacher, said she could see other subjects being used in gym exercises as well.

“I would like to see social studies, going from continent to continent,” Kwiecien said. “We can work directly with a classroom teacher and have an intersection to curriculum that is currently being taught.”

The wall cost around $9,730, after a $2,010 school discount. While the district chipped in $1,231 for the wall, community groups covered the rest of the bill: Community Resources Association donated $1,000, the Parent Teacher Student Association gave $2,500 and the Hampstead Mother’s Club helped by giving $4,999.

Rebecca Gagne, a member of the Mother’s Club, said the wall is redefining gym class by “switching it up for kids.”

“There’s a lot of buzz about this wall from all the ages,” Gagne said.

When asked what she could see taught with the wall, she suggested “language arts — climb to the sight word.”

The wall is made up of 10 plywood panels that are 4 feet wide and 8 feet high. They’re sprayed down with a magnetic material, lending the wall its official product name: Magna Wall.

Each wall is covered in holes that grips are drilled into. The panels each support over 1,300 pounds of weight hanging off them — or 21 second-graders at 60 pounds each.

The grips are dishwasher safe, and can be removed and cleaned in a dishwasher, Collins said.

The wall was purchased earlier this year, but its installation was delayed as the school geared up to replace the gymnasium and cafeteria’s floor.

The floor was something school leaders “should have replaced three to five years ago, but we basically said there were other fish to fry,” Collins said. “The district has been trying to figure out how to do that and balance that against other needs.”

The floor was designed for 15 to 20 years of use, but it had gone far beyond that. Every year, the maintenance costs to fill the seams and keep the floor flat were costing the school, according to Collins.

This summer, it was torn up, exposing another problem: While the concrete slab beneath the floor was cracked and in need of easy repairs, water was also coming up through the floor, Collins said.

After two weeks, around $30,000 was spent to fully repair the floor and start laying the new floor.

The new floor has “more forgiveness” than the last one because of the material, which is softer and can cushion falls, Kwiecien said.

“We were looking for a safer floor. It has better cushion and is safer with better traction,” Kwiecien said. “Safety is our first concern.”