ONTOP Survivor Challenge

Part of Burlington School District, ONTOP is a small, supportive school community for students in grades 5-12. In fall 2013, ONTOP students participated in the Survivor Challenge at Northern Lights Rock and Ice in Essex, VT. This hands-on, physically demanding activity promotes engagement in learning by allowing students to build real-world leadership and problem-solving skills, all while having fun on an obstacle and low-ropes course.

Reflections from ONTOP Staff

“The smiles on the faces of our students were proof-positive that students had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and time spent at Northern Lights.”
Survivor Challenge 2

“Students were doing things that staff never expected them to do: they climbed the rock walls and went on the high elements when staff never expected them to even attempt those elements.”

Survivor Challenge 3

“We were also really proud of one particular group of students who helped each other climb through and navigate the high obstacle course (even though many of them were screaming and shaking).”

Survivor Challenge 3

“During our community meeting following the trip to NLRI, many of the students made it clear that they wanted to have the opportunity to go there again and that we should do ‘stuff like that’ all the time.”


The vision for ONTOP students is that they will be safe, respectful and productive members of society. They will develop and use social skills that show respect for themselves, peers, family, and the community. Safe and healthy behaviors will result in positive choices that lead them to success in academic, social, and work settings. They will approach a task with confidence and independently bring it to completion. ONTOP students will show respect and acceptance to people of all cultures and ethnic groups.

Through the Survivor Challenge, ONTOP staff learned that building a strong school community is essential to achieving this vision. Since the trip to Northern Lights Rock and Ice, ONTOP has already noted a number of positive changes in student behavior:

  • More students accept feedback from peers in a positive way
  • Fewer negative social interactions between peers in school
  • More students demonstrate anger management skills when interacting with staff
  • Increased positive social interactions between students and staff