My first year being a Student Leader in Outdoor School (ODS) was the spring of my sophomore year in high school and little did I know that my whole life perspective would change. I waited anxiously for the moment to touch the grounds of Camp Arrah Wanna as a Student Leader, a stark difference compared to my visit as a sixth-grader. Camp Arrah Wanna left a positive impact on me and I wanted to provide the sixth-graders with an identical experience. When I went to Outdoor School as a 12-year-old, I had one of the best learning experiences of my life. I was engaged the entire time by the staff and Student Leaders with games and activities. Most importantly, I felt included. In sixth grade, I was rather shy and afraid to speak out or communicate with my peers because of my pronunciation of English words and accent. However, my fears were turned off in Outdoor School. The Student Leaders never made me feel left out and, even though they struggled to understand me through my accent, they always smiled and kindly asked me to repeat myself. From that moment on, I knew that when I turned 15 that I wanted to be as great of a Student Leader as them.
During my first week as a student counselor in 2013 I realized that I wanted to be a teacher, a profession that would allow me to interact and mentor children. I was assigned to take care of a diverse group of individuals my first week as a counselor: different ethnicities, different socioeconomic standards, a range of personalities, and one transgender. On the first two days, they were timid, but that changed quickly. ODS taught me how to create a sense of community within the cabin; I used the skills I learned from the staff about interacting with the kids by sharing my past experiences as a sixth-grader, opening up creative games and breaking the ice by making the girls laugh with silly jokes. At first, it didn’t work with one of the girls. The girl told me that she thought the games were idiotic and constantly excluded herself from the group. I tried explaining to her that the goal is to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed. I mentioned how, at times, to get to know a person you need to be yourself and incorporate aspects of your personality that are conceived as “silly.” I was resilient to help her understand the big picture. I had patience and did not give up on her because I cared for her well-being as much as I did for the other girls. After our talk she still didn’t seem convinced, but I kept encouraging her to play and voice her thoughts during our activities and meetings as a group.
After a while, I noticed her warming up to me and her peers; it brought me so much joy. One of the girls got a stomach ache and had to go to the nurse; while the other girls in the group were enthralled by the campfire and didn’t pay much attention, the one who used to stand off was the one who was constantly asking me if the sick girl was okay. The experience taught me how to deal with future students who appear difficult at first: with patience and kindness, because ultimately, they will give back what you give them.
At the end of the week, a beautiful confession was given during our final dinner as a cabin. I asked all the girls what part of ODS they were going to miss and their responses were filled with love. All of them agreed that it was a memorable experience based on the fact that they were having hands-on learning experiences. They were going to miss ODS because they had so much fun and met so many amazing new friends. But particularly what the transgender student confessed shocked the whole table. She explained to our cabin that she was glad she got paired with us since she had never felt accepted in her whole life and the group welcomed her better than her own family. It made me so incredibly happy that I was able to facilitate an environment where she felt comfortable and accepted. I understand how it feels to be unwelcomed, so I was truly grateful that I made these girls’ Outdoor School week memorable. In my future classroom, I want to embody the same characteristics of amiability that I used to build community with my students in ODS. Regardless of who they are, I want them to know that Ms. Falcon will always be there to help them out.
My experience teaching during field study has also opened my eyes in regards to teaching all different types of students: rowdy ones, quiet ones, etc. Being able to get the groups’ attention my first time as a Student Leader was difficult, but now I feel comfortable when settling the group down. I always make sure that even the students that seem uninterested get captivated by science by having a one-on-one relationship with me, providing them with tasks to do and always complimenting them on their work.
I have spent every spring in Outdoor School since my sophomore year and it has tremendously impacted me. I now know how I can be a better educator, but also a better person in general. I see further than an attitude and analyze the interrelations of students in class settings and how they treat each other. My long-term goal of creating change as a teacher in the future is constantly being refined by ODS. The program has really helped me practice my teaching skills: getting kids excited while also allowing them to learn in a safe environment. It has also allowed me to become more confident when teaching: I know how to get the attention of children when teaching field studies, how to keep their interest, as well how to be more confident when speaking in large groups of people through singing campfire songs. Outdoor School made learning exciting for me and made me realize that I too wanted to be an educator. I could not be more grateful for all the skills I have learned through being a counselor, skills that will facilitate my first year of being a teacher.