Maria turned to me, eyes wide. Her breathing quickened and she started gasping for air. I grabbed her hand and we left the campfire. We easily fell into the pattern that had become our routine. I squeeze her hand. I breathe. She breathes and squeezes back. Our pace slowed on the walk back to the nurse's office as I told her stories of tree houses and ice cream.
It was day four of five at Outdoor School. As high-schooler [Student Leaders] we become a strange mixture of parent, teacher, doctor, and friend. Our reward does not come from personal gain, but purely through the time we are able to spend with sixth-graders. That particular day had been a strange one. It began with Field Day and an event they called "Alaskan Baseball," a game that involves a giant ball, running, and boys. One of the girls in my cabin, Maria, was unlucky enough to be caught in the middle of it all. At one point in the game she was knocked to the ground, winded by the blow. The fall caused her asthma to flare up, and she went into hyperventilation, gasping and crying, trying to tell me what was wrong. Struggling to understand I looked into her panicking eyes and the realization hit me. I handed her inhaler to her and she held onto it like a flotation device.
Throughout the day Maria had four asthma attacks. When it came time for dinner that night, Maria and I, inhaler in hand, showed up late. My cabin of sixth-grade girls surprised me with their concern for Maria, a girl they had known a mere four days. Dinner had been going on for fifteen minutes, but no one at the table had touched anything. They all sat and stared, with looks of deep concern on their faces. We reached the table and the concern on their faces turned to joy.
Outdoor School has taught me the power of friendship. As Student Leaders, once a week our site supervisor sits all of us down and asks us why we come to Outdoor School. The things that people say are incredible. They talk about being role models for students. They talk about being able to be their true selves. For my last weeks that I have spent at Outdoor School, when it was my turn to speak, I have said the same thing.
I keep coming back to Outdoor School because it gives every single person the chance to have a friend. Everyone at Outdoor School is to embrace differences, and provide unconditional love to students and Student Leaders alike. We hear that Outdoor School is magical. That magical, excited, tingling feeling we all get on the bus ride up is there for a reason. When we pull into camp and the smell of the outdoors brings a million memories rushing back, I remember why I love Outdoor School. I love walking around and hearing a joyous round of Little Red Wagon echoing across the bluff. I love almost destroying Tillamook with an energetic version of Rattlin' Bog. I love writing my name on a piece of wood, knowing that it will be my award for the week. Most of all, I love who I am when I am there. No matter the weather, every memory I have of Outdoor School is sunny. One week at Outdoor School has taught me more than four years of high school, combined. Outdoor School is a place where you learn how to put down the cell phone, the computer, and the social media, and are forced to make genuine human connections.
Outdoor School will always be a part of me. When I struggle with right or wrong, when I am nervous or scared, I am able to remember who I am at Outdoor School. “Toasty” is brave and kind, She is able to be present and teach sixth-grade students about science. She stands up for what she believes in. And even though this is my last session at Outdoor School, it will never be the end of Toasty.