After-school climbing program with Edison Elementary wraps up

Paul Florence, News Reporter

After applying for a Whitman Internship Grant this fall, Cassidy Washburn created an after-school climbing program. This past summer, Washburn worked at Summer Sol, a free summer program for all Walla Walla Public School students, and wanted to extend her experiences with the children she worked with. She wanted to share her love of climbing with kids in Walla Walla, so she developed a curriculum to teach kids how to climb.

Currently, the program is only open to students from Edison Elementary School. However, Washburn and her colleagues will be expanding the program next semester to twice a week additionally working with Pioneer Middle School.

“The program runs through the 21st Century after-school program, which is a national government-funded grant program intended to help students in rural or low-income areas,” Washburn said. “Right now, the program is only for kids in the Edison Elementary School after-school program, but there is potential for expansion in the future. All 25 children who are part of Edison’s after-school program come to climb on Wednesdays.”

Washburn’s goals for the program include teaching kids teamwork and providing access to a climbing gym and climbing equipment that the kids might not otherwise have. 

“The main focus of this project is to create a place where Walla Walla Public School students can experience the benefits of rock climbing for free in a safe and structured environment,” Washburn said.  

Washburn is working on expanding the program to extend to middle school-aged students next semester.

“This program will expand next semester to include middle schoolers, as well. It will be led through Whitman’s Career and Community Engagement Center (CCEC) in partnership with the 21st Century after-school program at Edison Elementary School, Pioneer Middle School and the local non-profit Friends of Children of Walla Walla,” Washburn said. 

Washburn works with two teaching partners, sophomore Alejandro Mata and senior Ella Hill. Mata recounted his experiences with the program and explained how he became involved. 

“I became involved in the program through [Washburn] who I got to work with over the summer,” Mata said. “She had a great idea and asked if I could help. I obviously said yes.”

Mata also expressed the fulfillment he gets from working with kids every week.

“What I love about the program is that it allows [Whitman students] to actually engage with people in the Walla Walla community,” Mata said. “I also love how much the kids love to see us. It’s the greatest feeling when our students are rushing into the climbing gym to give us hugs.”

Hill had a similar story to tell. She also worked with Washburn at the Edison Elementary summer program, and Washburn wanted to find a way to stay connected to Edison after the summer program ended. 

“After Summer Sol ended, we wanted to figure out a way to stay involved with the kids from Edison. [Washburn] came up with an idea to teach rock climbing,” Hill said. “[Washburn] then developed a plan and we worked with climbing gym staff, as well as the CCEC, to make it happen,” Hill said.

Mata finds it likely that the program will expand after a successful first run.

“I can see it expanding to incorporate the WWPSD as a whole too,” Mata said. “It gives students accessibility to things that they could potentially be interested in.”

Hill emphasized that the ultimate goal of the program is to expand to as many members of the Walla Walla community as possible.

“Having climbing programs and creating new programs led by Whitman students where kids from Walla Walla schools are able to try new activities and find new passions is the ultimate goal,” Hill said.

Run by enthusiastic and passionate students, the future of this after-school climbing program looks bright.