Three weeks a year we go on Encounter Week. Most adventures are multi-age (grades 7-12) and range from backpacking to Acadia National Park to knitting. Students immerse themselves in something out in the world for a week. Most options include overnights and all students and faculty participate.
Last week, for the fourth year in a row, I led the ninth grade bike trip. Fifteen ninth graders (the whole grade), an eleventh grade student leader and three faculty members biked around Lake Champlain--206 miles. We camped out in yards of current and alum families and carried our gear in a support vehicle. As one of only two single-age Encounter Weeks, it really bonds the class and gives a serious welcome to high school.
I sometimes struggle with having so much less classroom time than my peers in other schools--several years ago when I attended AP institute, I determined that we have 68% of the number of minutes in the classroom as the average in my class. But I think that the benefits of the program greatly outweigh the trade offs.
We talk a lot about growth mindset and grit and perseverance and collaboration and classroom culture and willingness to take risks. I find that getting out of the classroom and into a totally different model provides so many students an opportunity to experience these ideas in a new environment.
Each night we asked two prompts for students to share about. On the last night we asked: "what did you learn about yourself on this trip?" and "what will you take from this trip back to the rest of your life?" Some of the responses were priceless:
"Staying positive makes things that seem impossible, possible."
"I have a lot more power than I thought."
"If I truly believe I can, I can power through anything."
"Although I thought I always wanted to be with others, its important for me to reflect on my own too."
"Daunting tasks don't need to be scary if I just take them one bit at a time."
"I can do more than I thought if I don't give myself the option to give up."
"A little encouragement can go a long way."
"Being a leader doesn't always mean being in front, it often means hanging back and letting the group figure things out. It means sacrificing my own needs for the good of the whole."
I look forward to bringing these quotes back to our day to day time in the classroom.