Posted on Sunday January 31, 2016
Just happened upon this old thing I wrote from my time working at Wayfinder Schools. I was working my usual Saturday shift at the Wayfinder School in Camden, ME, an alternative residential high school. It was a cold winter day, some of us were in a bit of a funk, and I knew we had to get out and do something. After a bit of cajoling, I marched out the door with three of my students in tow. We were off to climb Mt. Battie, a nearby hill. I was proud to have finally gotten my students out of the stale air of the house and into the freezing elements. I was going to toughen them up and show them what a real adventure looked like.
It was a hard trudge up the path and yet these kids, Carlos, Emily, and Mitch, were real troopers– not a word of complaint passed their lips. Mitch led us off the trail for a bit of icy scrambling. After a good hour of that, I was satisfied with our hike. They had proven themselves in my eyes.
“Alright guys, what do you say we head back? This has been fun!” I said. I didn’t want to keep these guys out there too long. Also, my hands were cold, the gray sky was darkening, and the prospect of a cup of hot tea with honey was growing increasingly appealing.
“No, not yet,” said Emily, “We have to build a fort.”
Mitch and Carlos nodded in agreement. I was outnumbered. The team got to work. Emily, Chief Engineer, carefully placed the sturdy sticks that Carlos, Director of Materials, gathered. I stood idly by, nursing my frosty digits while they worked with efficiency.
“Hey, Ethan, could you help me with this?” Mitch was wrenching a mighty log up from the ice. I didn’t want to help. I was cold. I wanted to go home! “Do I have to?” I heard myself say–dangerously close to whining. I reluctantly grabbed the other end of the log and we hoisted it up together. Carlos was nice enough to attribute my no-can-do attitude to my plummeting body temperature. He traded gloves with me. “Your gloves don’t seem to have much insulation in them,” he said, “Here. Take mine.” Soon enough, an impressive shelter stood before us. Emily pulled a pole-less tent out of her bag and draped it over the structure. “Okay, let’s go in!” she said, “Ethan should go in the middle. He’s cold.”
Once we were all huddled in there, Mitch drew from his pocket the single source of sustenance we brought–a starfruit. We shared it, passing it around. And it was then that I had two important realizations. Firstly, though starfruit is, in my opinion, only a mildly tasty fruit, when a person is cold, tired, and wedged between teenagers on top of a mountain, it’s pretty darned delicious. And secondly, my students, though they may seem lazy and uninspired at times, have enormous potential. That day, they scaled icy rocks with grit. They took care of me when I was cold and complaining. They worked cooperatively and ambitiously on a shelter that I have no doubt is still standing today. And they knew how to appreciate a peaceful moment, passing around a starfruit without a word as the wind blew through the trees. I set out that afternoon to teach them what a real adventure looked like. They ended up teaching me.
The crew on another one of their outdoor adventures. Carlos (front row) and Mitch (back row) are both wearing glasses. Emily is in the front left, wearing a red vest. All three graduated in 2014. Ethan, back left, now lives in New York.