Common Ground

Common Ground

Common Ground is the new way forward in experiential learning with a focus on social and emotional learning.  Consisting of all ground-based, portable initiatives, this program is inclusive, engaging, fun and thought-provoking. 

Common Ground is built upon three foundational pillars.

  1. Building meaningful relationships though inclusion, valuing diversity, developing listening skills and increasing empathy for others. 
  2.  Increasing Self-Awareness by understanding our own strengths, challenges and reflecting on ideas like “how am I showing up in this team?”
  3. Developing Team Skills like communication, collaboration, creative problem-solving, decision-making and leadership.

These three pillars are delivered through the lens of a mountaineering expedition.  Mountaineering has been a core component of my life for the last 40 years leading and participating in mountaineering expeditions in places like the Pacific Northwest, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Common Ground uses the metaphor of a mountaineering expedition because it provides a framework and includes three segments that are critical to a real mountaineering expedition.  Although each segment is distinct, participants will find themselves jumping back and forth between them at various times in the program.  

Base Camp (Building Meaningful Relationships)

As a mountaineering team, we must first get to know one another and each other’s strengths, capabilities.  We must know what we can trust one another for and where we will need to fill each other’s gaps.

Camp 1 (Increasing Self-Awareness)

By the time we reach Camp 1 we have enough experience to know more about ourselves.  It is time to reflect on “How am I contributing to the team’s success?”  “Am I satisfied with my performance?”  “What can I do differently in the future?” “How can I support my other team members?”

Summit (Developing Team Skills)

It takes effective teamwork to make it to the summit of any mountain and back down again safely.  Teams can encounter any number of obstacles and challenges along the way and those that communicate well, have a high level of trust and can solve problems creatively and quickly will be the ones that succeed. 

Program details and logistics

Location – WE COME TO YOU.

Challenge Discovery will bring everything needed for the program to your school, camp or organization’s location.  Please provide approximately 30 – 50 sq ft of clear open space per person.  We prefer to conduct Common ground indoors but can deliver it outside if the weather permits and the environment is safe and conducive for the activities and discussion.

Please have a back-up plan even if you are planning to be outdoors.  There are no travel costs for programs in the Richmond metro area.  Mileage, meals and hotel costs may be added for travel to other areas.

Cost for students

  • $20 per person 
  • $400 minimum

Duration

  • 2 hours
  • 30 min set up before the program and
  • 30 minutes for take down

Chaperone requirement

1 per 20 students minimum

This program is also available for teachers, administrators, and staff during “teacher work week” or in-service days as professional development and training.  

My Story

When I was 16 years old, I participated in my first ropes course at Outward Bound. That one day combined with 29 additional days of grueling adventure set the trajectory for the rest of my life and career as an experiential educator and facilitator.

When I joined Challenge Discovery in 1989 my vision was to encapsulate my 30-day Outward-Bound experience into a 4-hour experience that would be accessible to all students grades 5 through seniors in college. Of course, a 30-day expedition could never be replicated in such a short period of time, but I knew we could make a small difference and in some cases a big difference if we included the following ingredients into our programming.

  1. A new and novel experience that was unlike anything else people had done.
  2. A safe way of getting people to purposefully push out of their comfort zone and into the learning zone which is full of opportunities.
  3. An environment that is inclusive and supportive and would require people to come work together for a common purpose.
  4. The need for people to think differently and challenge current assumptions about the way they solve problems.

Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s nearly all organizations that used a ropes course as one of their tools shared much of the same philosophy. In fact, at that time, there were only a handful of ropes courses scattered around the country and all of them were doing great work.

Then in the mid 2000’s the professionals that built ropes courses figured out they could increase their revenue by designing and building ropes courses that were intentionally designed to attract a “mainstream” population. We call these ropes courses “adventure parks”, “zip line tours”, and “pay for play” ropes courses designed for amusement and exhilaration rather than learning. These pay for play amusements have popped up everywhere and most commonly in tourist areas like Williamsburg/Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, ski resorts and other high-volume areas. During the last 15 years it is estimated that for every “traditional” style ropes course built, 25 adventure amusements were built!

The impact of the adventure amusements on the traditional ropes course program has been difficult for most and to some organizations devastating. The result is a consumer has become confused because “if it looks like a ropes course, all ropes courses must be the same.” Participants have also come to value the exhilaration of climbing at height and “checking the box off the bucket list” more than they value the reward that comes from, doing the hard work, supporting other people, and working as a team.

At Challenge Discovery, we did it right. We stayed true to our mission and purpose for 40 years. We survived the dot com bubble, the uneasiness that came after 9/11, the 2008 financial crises and even COVID-19. We worked hard to educate clients about the difference between our program and “pay for play” activities and have been appreciated for our efforts and rewarded by our clients allowing us to serve them for so long.

It is now time to leave the ropes course in the rear view. Let the adventure parks take the world by storm. It has been an evolution. Some call it progress. I think a regression, but I am just one person, and this person still has the passion for what we created 40 years ago but with a new vision for the future. This vision is called Common Ground.

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