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Everest 2003: Charlie Wittmack Dispatch Three

Jordan Creek Elementary: Today I have been learning about Everest climbing from 106 fifth graders at Jordan Creek Elementary School in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Only a handful of these students have ever been to the mountains, but they have the facts and figures of the world’s tallest peak on the tips of their tongues.  They knew the mountain’s height (both before and after Steady Ed’s GPS trip), the rate of growth, the speed of descent of the Khumbu Glacier and a variety of historical facts.

During the next several months as I slowly trudge toward Everest’s summit, the students here will be climbing an “Everest” of their own.  The fifth grade class has been divided into four “climbing teams,” each with the goal of reaching the 29,035 ft. summit.  In this case one foot of elevation is gained for each page of a book that is read by a member of the team.  The competition is fierce as these 10 and 11 year olds try to beat me to the summit.  As I put Everest’s elevation in terms they understand, “seventy-five times up Iowa’s tallest building,” they put their project in terms that I can relate to, “reading Walt Unsworth’s book, Everest, 25 times.”  I’m beginning to think that I have the easier climb!

Everest provides a format that helps students find inspiration to work toward the achievement of their dreams.  During one of our workshops, I challenge each student to find an “Everest” of their own.  Today some of these included building a car, becoming a Veterinarian and playing in a symphony.  Each of the students identifies their own “Everest” and we plan a path to completing the goal together.

We start by establishing a foundation. These are major goals or lifestyles that will help them establish a foundation to reaching their dream.  The four categories we examine are Academic, Physical, Social and Personal.  An Everest expedition is a lot like starting a business, I pointed out, and graduating from college with a business degree is a great foundational goal.  Physical foundations include something general like a commitment to physical fitness or a specific goal like running a marathon.  The social foundation has to do with friends.  Climbers trust their partners with their lives and it is important to surround yourself with people of character.  Personal foundations include issues of honesty and integrity. 

After each student outlines the foundation for their “Everest” we look at specific short-term goals that will help them along the path.  Essentially we try to turn “moments into lifetimes.”  Each student identifies some specific goals with deadlines that they will work to achieve over the next week or two.  Our aspiring veterinarian has a foundational goal to become knowledgeable about animals and will teach her dog to play “fetch” by next Friday.  A future professional skateboarder is looking to get a business degree in order to help manage his endorsements.  This week his goal is to finish all his homework on time.  They are small steps, but part of the process we use to build these positive moments into lifetimes of achievement.

After the students have a grasp on where they’re heading and how they plan to get there we start to talk about what obstacles might get in their way.  The students start to recognize that while positive moments take years to turn into dreams, negative moments take them away at a much faster rate.  One bad decision might happen in a single minute, but take you away from a goal you have been working on for many years.  Today the students made a list of things that they think might get in the way of their dreams and we brainstormed ways for them to work around them by making good decisions.

Days like this make you forget all about the summit.  My expedition to Mount Everest has already been a success.

Email Charlie

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