Taken from Counting the Rings, an anthology
Right now I am a graduate student working on my master’s degree in education. Why in the world would I want to enter such a tough job market, with small salary, and ever-decreasing support from the public and government? Somehow Outdoor School gave me this crazy notion that I can make some sort of positive difference in the world using education and community love.
I went to Sandy River in sixth grade and loved it, so I came back in high school. High school is full of so much social drama and issues of being cool that in order to fit in, we need to sacrifice how we really want to act and be as a person.
At Outdoor School we were no longer competitive with each other to be the most popular. Now instead we were a collaborative group of teenagers with the daunting task of taking care of other human beings. Suddenly, our egotistical brains are challenged with this alien notion that we sometimes need to put ourselves aside for other people. Now we are trying our best to get these twelve-year-olds to learn from us and get along with each other. The depth of the community that is built within this short week is astounding.
At one point, I got a couple of letters from my sixth-graders telling me how much they liked Outdoor School and wanted to become a Student Leader because of me. It was with these letters that I stopped and reflected on why I went to Outdoor School in the first place, and why I loved the program so much. The high school students that I saw in sixth grade were the coolest people ever, and I wanted to be just like them. Because of them, I pushed myself within the program, and grew so much stronger as a person in sixth grade. Because of my Student Leaders, I have taught hours with children. I have watched students break down their walls and sing silly songs. I have watched light bulbs turn on in their heads when they learn something. I have watched friendships being made. I have watched them work out their differences. I have watched sixth-graders do so many great things.
I only gained these experiences because I was influenced by my Student Leaders, and now I somehow managed to influence some new students to go through what I have. Somehow, convincing new people to enter this program, and to grow as I did, was one of the best things I have ever done. I can only hope they did decide to become Student Leaders, and they influence even more sixth-graders to decide they want to come back.
Student Leaders get challenged in the best ways possible. They get to learn what they do matters to other people. They get to see that even though they aren’t popular at school they are still awesome. They get to see the best in themselves, and they get to see what potential they have as people. You need only to experience one candle pass with Student Leaders to see how powerful the experience is for everyone. Outdoor School may be a short amount of time, a week of experiences, but so much learning and development happens there. I hope it lasts forever, so I can go back someday.
Eric “Pigeon” Andrews, Student Leader: 5 weeks on Animals Field Study at Sandy River, Special Needs Volunteer: 8 weeks at Adams Milk Creek, Arrah Wanna, Howard, Namanu and Sandy River