Life Learning Academy at Mission Cliffs

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By Justin Warren.

Balance. Leverage. Mechanical advantage. Resilience. Smarts. 

Students at Life Learning Academy practice these and more each week at Mission Cliffs climbing gym.

The best part? The learning anchors itself in a fun, physically demanding sport that encourages individual strength and perseverance, according to LLA instructor Karuna Holm and the eight students in the class.

Holm gathers students for a lesson on technique.

 “It’s something different, something I’ve never experienced before,” said 10th grader Austin Parrish during a break from the bouldering wall.

“It’s really fun,” said Parrish, who arrived at the school only a week prior, and was surprised to find himself enjoying school in a way he had not in the recent past.

“It was really exciting. I was just surprised that I was able to do it so soon,” Parrish said, reporting that he’s quickly connecting with other students through sharing in the non-competitive activity.

Holm points out a reachable hold for a student climber.

For Holm, climbing offers the ideal blend of active movement and problem-solving, along with a variety of science topics that she covers in the hybrid Integrated Science and Physical Education class.

Her own “budding interest” in climbing led her to contact Mission Cliffs, which agreed to offer a discounted rate for LLA students to chalk their hands and scale the bouldering wall every week during the fall semester.

Holm, who teaches Experiential Ecology at LLA (organic gardening, ecology, sailing) wanted students to explore climbing as an “inexpensive way to stay in shape, join a healthy and supportive community, play, develop confidence, and as a pathway to outdoor adventures and connecting with nature.”

Jamauriea scales an overhang.
Cameron rests after reaching the top.

 During the semester, the students learned knots, safety systems, friction, and the science behind leverage, pulleys, and mechanical advantage that allows climbers to support one another and stay safe..

LLA student Joachim Macapaz, an avid soccer player with prior climbing experience, says climbing has increased his sense of balance, his flexibility, and his arm strength.

“You have to use your weight movement, and also your hand coordination,” to stay on the wall, Macapaz said. “Staying on the wall makes me feel like I’m in a different world.”

Chazorae grips a hold.
Joachim shifts his weight on the bouldering wall.

Even more important than the physical benefits, Holm said, is the thinking that leads to a successful ascent.

“One of the main goals is just feeling comfortable in your own body, and to feel good and strong,” Holm said. “And beyond that, thinking through problems, and thinking about how to make the best choices.”

“Sports aren’t just a matter of going hard, but also about being smart,” Holm added, in order to find a successful route to the top.

This article originally appeared on the Life Learning Academy blog and is republished with permission. For more information about our outreach programs at Mission Cliffs, contact Donna at (415) 550-0515.