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!”