For many, climbing is a passing hobby. For others it can offer a huge support system. At MetalMark in Fresno, climbing is helping to change the lives of local students and keep them in school.
Twice a week, a group of inner-city high school students climbs at MetalMark. Will Haskins, a high school Cross Country coach and teacher with McLane High School, first proposed the Project Reach climbing club in 2011 to the Fresno Unified School District. “McLane High School is an inner city high school where 25% of the student population is in the foster care system and holds the highest density of poverty in the nation”, stated Haskins. “McLane’s graduation and student retention numbers are atrocious.” Haskins added that, “participation in after-school programs and athletics is a determining factor in these students staying in school.” Haskins hoped that a climbing program would help students graduate.
Haskins confronted a number of difficulties when starting the club. After a six month grant approval process from the school district, Haskins faced the hurdle of funding the project. To achieve this goal, Touchstone Climbing partnered with Project Reach and offered a discount on purchasing equipment for the students. Other members of the climbing community supported the project as well. Haskins posted on various climbing websites looking for shoe and chalk bag donations and climbers flooded Project Reach with gear, and within months gear was arriving at MetalMark from all across California.
“Many of these students are from all ethnic backgrounds, all grade levels, all athletic abilities, and many of them are feeling hope and success for the first time in their lives,” said Haskins. A student approached Haskins and said, “Rock climbing is the first thing I’ve ever been excited about.” Haskins knew he was on to something big after more students approached him. “This is my first year rock climbing, and it has really changed me. I have learned that even though a route is really hard, I shouldn't give up,” said Project Reach student Alexis. “When life gets hard, don't give up. MetalMark is a positive place to hang out, and the rock climbing staff inspires me.”
“I had broken my arm, and rock climbing helped me recover. Also at that time I was having problems at home and it helped my life feel better,” said Tshaaj, a Project Reach student. “Not only did it help me physically, it also helped me mentally. I feel like rock climbing has helped me a lot.”
Haskins feels that along with the strong relationships he is building with his students, the climbing club also resulted in students staying in school, passing classes, building friendships with other climbers, and essentially building a positive community in which they feel safe.
Haskins and the other teachers at McLane High are excited about the rock climbing club. When they see a student needing extra help, not doing well in school, or how would benefit from an extracurricular activity, they know they can send them to Project Reach.