One of the many things that separates Shaker Road School from others is our commitment to developing the whole child. Part of this process is exposing our students to authentic learning and personal challenges. Our annual fall trips provide powerful opportunities for middle school students to test themselves both physically and emotionally. Often, while reflecting on their early adolescent years, graduating eighth graders point to lessons learned on these fall trips as being among the most profound of their middle school years.
Last week, I traveled with the eighth grade to Wolfeboro as they explored both leadership and followership. The curriculum takes students through many lessons encouraging them to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses as they prepare to lead SRS as eighth graders. This year’s class was amazing. Over four days, they challenged themselves and each other to be better students, friends, and school citizens. The depth of their discussions at such a young age was impressive. I was struck by how much these teenagers carry on their young shoulders and reminded myself to listen more and talk less.
Near the end of the week, and before dawn, I gathered the ninth graders and set off for the mountains, a place I have always called home. When we caught up with the seventh graders, they had already spent two nights in The Whites, one “glamping” at the AMC Highland Center and the other in a backcountry hut (also glamping compared to my tent platform accommodations with the ninth graders). Most seventh graders had little experience spending two days living in the backcountry, but they quickly adjusted. We met the first of three student hiking groups on the summit of Mt. Pierce. In a short time, they already resembled Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.
As the first seventh grade group passed, we sat and watched the other two groups make their way across the ridge from Mt. Eisenhower. They had conquered two of New Hampshire’s 4,000 Footers, pushing some to their limits, and learning first-hand of the fragility of alpine plants and how to properly dispose of waste above treeline, a lesson they will never forget! The seventh graders ended their day with a home cooked meal in the hut while the ninth graders and I struggled to swallow partially rehydrated bagged dinners (the student who forgot our camp stove shall remain nameless). By the next morning, we were all glad to meet back up at the Highland Center before heading home to much needed showers.
The sixth grade fall trip to The Ecology School in Saco, Maine follows the leadership and hiking trips. For many sixth graders, this is the first time they will spend a week away from home — a different kind of learning experience. This trip aligns directly with our science curriculum, allowing students to apply existing knowledge to the field. Like the AMC educators, teachers at The Ecology School are passionate about their work as they “accentuate the magic, mystery and wonder of nature so that students can better understand and care for the environment.”
As our society continues to lean more toward mandated curricula, standardized tests, and lack of funding for arts and music programs, we must remind ourselves that not all learning can be acquired in a traditional classroom. By experiencing the outdoors, helping friends struggle through a difficult moment on a strenuous hike, or analyzing some of mother nature’s wonders, we truly are teaching our students how to become better adults and contributors to our world and our future. Through these fall experiences at SRS, we are truly helping to develop the “whole child.”