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TAASC teaches outdoor learning, focusing on skills

Barbara Hootman
barbara@blackmountainnews.com

The American Adventure Service Corps program popular with Swannanoa Valley Montessori elementary students takes them outdoors year-round for adventures like rock climbing, caving and hiking.

Greg Gillett, who grew up in South Africa, is director of The American Adventure Service Corps, also known as TAASC. Parent of twins enrolled at Swannanoa Valley Montessori School, he two years ago saw the difference in the school’s curriculum that his outdoor education programs made. Approached by the school, he developed a program for the school. He knew the North Carolina mountains well, having spent 10 years with Outward Bound in North Carolina.

TAASC, for students ages 8-18, is modeled after the national outdoor leadership program Outward Bound. TAASC develops social consciousness and leadership through activities like climbing, paddling, caving and hiking.

Gillett says it is important that students feel successful in what they are doing.

“Every age group learns and assimilates information differently,” he said. “Recently we went to the DuPont State Forest to practice skills the students had learned in class. It is important that they be able to put the skills into action.”

The students not only learn skills needed in outdoor activities, but they also learn about consequences.

“Kids lead the way with decision-making in the program,” Gillett said. “There are two sessions, lasting a month each, of learning skills that they will need in the outdoor adventures. There is a big trip planned for each session. They learn the skills, but they also learn from the mistakes they make. Each trip is made up of what the students want to do, what skills they have, and all have adult supervision to guide them.”

Recently one student was having trouble learning to use a compass. During a recent outing, when it came time to make a decision of which way to go, the student chose a direction based on the compass. And she was right.

“Immediately you could see this student’s confidence level go from zero to 10,” Gillett said. “Her body language and energy even changed. The students are also quick to help each other.”

The development of a positive service ethic is an important TAASC objective because service projects “foster a sense of purpose and ownership for community needs and services,” Gillett said. Students “learn to get along with a lot of different people. And along with outdoor skills they learn social skills.”

Jen Hermance, an elementary teacher at Swannanoa Valley Montessori School, values the TAASC class for the skills taught in a natural setting.

“So many schools and even families don’t get enough time outdoors,” she said. The outdoors “can be calming almost immediately. It’s also challenging for some students, but to watch them overcome their fears and accept the challenges is priceless.

“We had one child during the rock climbing session that refused to go to the first class, because he was afraid of heights. With some gentle coaxing and cheering from his peers, he started off with feeling comfortable in a (climbing) harness, to hanging in a harness from a tree to actually rock climbing. He did it, and the look of joy and sense of accomplishment made me tear up.

“So many skills are taught that are important. But it’s not the skills that are of utmost importance, it’s the opportunity for moments to happen. TAASC is giving them the opportunity for a moment to happen. Those moments are what are important.”

Eight-year-old Josiah Default said the adventure trips are fun but can be a little scary at times.

“Some of the caves that we go in are really tight,” he said, “but we learned skills before we went that helped us get through,” he said. “You really have to have good team work and know that you can rely on each other, especially in caving and rock climbing.”

Nine-year-old Avery Van Note said she likes outdoor education more than indoor.

“It is really cool to be outside rock climbing, inside a cave, or on a hike,” she said. “Sometimes outdoor adventures can be dangerous, like rock climbing. The skills are really important that we learn before we go on any trips. It is really important to do fun things in a safe way. It really requires a lot of team work.”

“I’ve experienced what the kids are experiencing at about the same age, so I know how they feel,” Gillett said. “It is really a fulfilling experience to watch them grow.”

For more, contact Gillett at 299-9844 or ashevilletaasc.com.