Returning from the First Backpack

wpdev03 Jul, 2016

An update from trip leader Joe: 

For the first time in my Adventure Treks career, I am surrounded by students covered in scrapes and bruises, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Our Leadership Summit group is taking the Wilderness First Aid course, and the instructors brought enough makeup for a Hollywood set. The first backpack of the trip was certainly eventful, but in the best possible ways. As usual at AT, the scenery was stunning. It was some of the most rugged country I have traveled through in a long while. Most things were covered in snow, but there were things growing… Our students. We learned about leadership styles, teaching techniques, conflict resolution, and how to give and receive feedback. We discussed map and compass skills, or “mapmatics” as I like to call it. We talked about what it takes to run a successful AT trip behind the scenes. The groups soaked up knowledge and began to put it to use in the field. I was very proud of all the groups. Everyone returned safely, and made route changes in order to provide the safest experience possible. The students overcame difficult terrain, all while keeping a positive attitude. I have a great feeling about our trip overall, and I only feel better after seeing the students in the field. Five days later, some minor sunburns and scrapes, and a little more confidence gained, our students are standing a little taller. We are off to Mt. Adams soon, and I can’t wait to see our students in action on a high peak.

And now a few words from Dock…

The reason we choose backpacking as the first activity is because in a small group it’s easier to make friends. Conversations in tents, beautiful views, tasty meals cooked and shared together, and the absence of electronic distractions allow students to get to know each other at a level often lost in the digital age. In this small group, our instructors are able to make a big imprint by modeling behaviors like teamwork, collaboration, and kindness—values already instilled by parents.

After the first backpack, the big group comes back together for a “Mexi Cook-off,” a celebration of all the fun, hard work, and growth achieved on the backpack. Here, teams of students cook a meal for a panel of celebrity judges (i.e., the instructors). This is a great time for the three smaller groups to be welcomed back into the big community again, and to demonstrate how their group has improved their collaboration and communication skills. Because entertainment and presentation are as an important part of the evening as the actual food, there are numerous opportunities for “collaborative creativity.”

Before we go any further, we want to stress that we make Adventure Treks fun for a reason. More than simply competing with digital media, teenagers are most receptive to learning when they are relaxed, having fun, and don’t feel like they are being forced to learn. They have had enough of that during the rest of the year.

Just by living in this environment and having careful, low-key reinforcement by instructors, the learning happens “subversively.” Social skills are being reinforced through day-to-day living with other students, many who started as strangers just a few days ago and are already close friends. Self-confidence grows when one overcomes initial fears and succeeds beyond expectations. Acquiring new outdoor skills, whether rock climbing or rafting, boosts confidence, making students more receptive to tackling future challenges. Independence is developed when they learn they can survive (and thrive) away from family and the comparative comforts of home. The supportive AT environment enables students to “be themselves” instead of trying to live up to the norms of the “in” crowd at school. More than anything, we hear this from our students: “I love being at AT because no one judges me here. I am appreciated for who I am, not whom others want me to be!”

– Dock


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