Our 3-day trip to YMCA Camp Seymour reinforced what this year will largely be about: identifying our personal leadership capacities, bonding as a class community, broadening our “courage zones” and engaging with others in the built and natural world to better understand and improve the realities we live in.
Class activities taught students the skills of canoeing, the unique traits of reptiles (first-hand), the properties of marine life in the Puget Sound and the threats they face, and how to make our water use more efficient. Led by naturalists, the students worked in small groups to design their own water filtration system, developed hypotheses about marine animals and held turtles, geckos and snakes!
Next we met in advisory groups for an afternoon of team challenges on a low ropes course. These necessitated communication, problem solving, self-advocacy, listening and perseverance. Many exhibited new-found strengths in themselves and observed them others. They also identified areas for growth, and ways they could step into their “Courage zone,” particularly when it came to zip lining!
Perhaps the most meaningful of all activities was the chance to be alone in nature. Students were dropped off at their own sites for a “solo” of about an hour, to fully absorb the sights, sounds and insights possible only in a wooded setting near an estuary. Here, they wrote in journals, sat beneath majestic cedars or on fern-covered hillsides, built “fairy houses,” teepees and “stick bouquets,” or simply laid on their backs looking at the sky.
While the 7th graders may be most likely to recall hilarious skit performances, dipping into the swimming pool the last week it was open, sharing stories in the cabin or channeling their inner “Katniss” on the archery course, it was likely the moments shared with classmates beyond their friend groups that will have the most sustained and positive impact. When asked to reflect on their personal strengths and takeaways, here’s a snapshot of what many had to say:
“I was a leader, but I stepped back as well.”
“I have the strength to be kind to others.”
“I want to spend more time in nature.”
“I noticed that different people started to speak up and others learned to step down.”
“I was able to be flexible and able to give up things that would benefit the feelings of others.”
“I work well in a team.”
“I was able to help lots of people and I was proud of myself because normally I just do what people tell me to do.”
“I saw people who were nervous about the solo walk do it and really enjoy it.”
“I noticed multiple people step up to take leadership. I saw a bunch of people try new things that they weren’t comfortable.”