For over 40 years, Upper Division students at Park have gone on an overnight trip to New Hampshire. This trip, originally called Project REASON, was designed to provide Upper Division students and their advisors with an opportunity to learn, work, and play together in new surroundings, to instill in students the responsibility to respect and care for one another, and to foster their sense of environmental awareness and stewardship of nature.
Over the years, the trip has grown and changed. Individual projects gave way to group projects and challenges. The location changed several times as Park sought to find a camp with indoor meeting spaces (read: warm and dry) that could accommodate an entire grade. The desire to partner with expert outdoor educators led us to our current location at an American Youth Foundation Camp called Merrowvista in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire. And most recently, the trip was shifted to the sixth grade as part of the new Upper Division travel continuum. This intentional progression means that sixth graders travel within New England, seventh graders journey to Washington, D.C. as part of their study of American history, and eighth graders travel to Europe and China with their language classes.
This past October, sixth graders and their advisors headed up to New Hampshire for a three-day regional experience. Park alumni will be glad to know that we still sleep in cabins, take a hike, wash dishes, have a night walk, and sit around an evening campfire. But now we also use a high ropes course, work through team challenges on low ropes elements, and build a bridge whose original design is attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci. We worked in groups of 10-12, which gave students a chance to work with others outside of their sections, and we ate as advisory groups, excitedly sharing with one another about the activities we’d been a part of that morning or afternoon.
Away from the day-to-day routines of school and the lure of technology, we all learned new things about ourselves, classmates, and teachers. At Merrowvista, the staff thinks about learning as part of a cycle. The students have an experience, they then are given the opportunity to reflect, and after these two steps, students transfer what they have learned to build new knowledge. This new knowledge leads to another experience, and the learning cycle continues. Of course, this learning cycle happens in classrooms too, but it is strikingly obvious when 12 sixth graders are balancing on a pentagon-shaped low ropes element, trying to figure out how to move across the narrow structure and arrange themselves in birthday order without falling off.
What did the sixth graders themselves think? Below is a sampling of responses from the reflections students wrote upon their return to school:
“When I was in my group I learned so many useful skills such as: teamwork, leadership, collaboration, and how to find a common goal.”
“One thing I think we learned was to trust each other. One main way we learned this was when we had to trust or partner when we were blindfolded and trying to make a bridge.
“IT IS AWESOME! Don’t be afraid of sleeping away from home. You’re with your friends, and it is a blast. All of the activities are good for learning, but most of all, they’re FUN!”
The motto at Merrowvista is My own self. At my very best. All the time. This fall, Park’s sixth graders truly were their own best selves, all the time, as they worked and learned and played at Merrowvista. We hope that when they think back, they will recognize this trip as an important rite of passage, the way that so many Park alumni before them do.