Thursdays are simultaneously challenging and a ton of fun for students and participants. I am one of the lucky staff members who gets to accompany the students on the hikes and afternoon activities each week. No two weeks are the same with variables such as weather, traffic, games, and moods. As an avid outdoors woman, I thoroughly enjoy being in nature with the students and observing their responses to the surroundings, one another, teachers, and the activities in which we partake along the way.
Last year, we often had conversations along the hikes with the students about listening to others, respecting rules and boundaries, supporting others, and ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings and situations. Some of those conversations were prompted by a specific situation and others were pre-planned by the group leader. The group is mixed in terms of proclivity for hiking and outdoors; some enjoy the experience and others struggle mightily with the physical and emotional exertion necessary for group outings. For the students who struggle most with the experience, I have truly been struck by their growth over the past year.
For instance, there are times when students struggled to finish one segment of the hike. Those same students not only now finish the entire hike, but they have grown in their tolerance to difficulty (i.e. feelings, group dynamics, and circumstances), have begun to advocate for themselves, and utilize the relationships of staff and peers to assist them with the challenges. Some of this can certainly be attributed to growing up and maturing over the last year, and some can be attributed to their overall expanded sense of community and comfort within the group. The growth I see on a continual basis in these students both inspires and encourages me. At times, I can get really focused on what happens in an hour, a day, a month…but when I look at what can happen over a year, I realize that personal growth is long-term and lifelong and it looks different for each individual.