Update from student Gavin:
Backpacking was a brand-new experience for me and something that I will never forget. Although it was hard, with the heavy packs and humidity, we finished just fine. There were some points when I felt like I couldn’t do it, especially the first day, but I pushed and made it. People made the trails fun as well; one of the instructors told us very hard riddles on the trail. We chatted the whole time, learning more about each other. And the food was a new experience as well; it was the first time I had oatmeal and granola, and both ended up being really good. I liked all the meals we had, especially the goodie bags.
The best part overall had to be hanging out with my group at the campsite. We played BS and President, two fun card games. Someone showed us magic tricks, which blew my mind and frustrated me because I couldn’t figure them out! We had a lot of fun moments, but the best moment was when we grabbed a water bottle, rain jacket, and went to a little waterfall. We didn’t want to swim at first; I tried using the ground as a water slide, but it didn’t work too well. Eventually we swam across and took the waterfall down as a slide; it was no doubt the highlight of our backpack. We finally made it out of the woods and met up with the other group, ate an amazing lunch, and then got on the road to our second camp. Even though I have only been with these people for four days and am on the fifth, I feel like the trip and our friendships have been around for much longer.
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!”