At the end of every week that I’ve counseled at Outdoor School, the staff always asks us: “Why did you come out this week?” At some point between my third and fourth time counseling, the answer became “because I just have to.”
When I arrived at Camp Westwind as a 12-year-old, I knew it was a magical place. When I came back again at 16, I was shocked to find it was still just as magical. There are very few things that maintain the luster of childhood perspective into adulthood. But last month, ferrying across the estuary into camp for my seventh time counseling, my 20-year-old self was just as excited, awed, and ready to learn.
I grew up in a family that values outdoor time: camping, hiking, and learning to respect nature. In the sixth grade, many of my classmates had similar experiences. But many of them also had never had a truly “outdoor experience” yet. Our week of camp was no less beneficial or impactful to students on either end of the spectrum. We all left with experiences that truly marked our formative years. It is no hyperbole to say that week at Westwind was life-changing.
As a counselor, I came to value the Outdoor School experience even more, because of the perspective granted by age and context. I have watched students that struggle to feel accomplished in traditional classroom settings blossom and become passionate about learning. Students that are high-achieving in traditional settings have broken from their mold and learned to embrace new experiences and learning styles. And by the end of the every week, each student leaves camp with their head held higher, a smile on their face, and shoes full of sand.
Outdoor School has also offered me close and unique friendships. Some of the most important people I’ve met know me only as Sticks. From years of counseling, I have a slew of hiking buddies, musicians to jam with, and friends who are always ready to grab a cup of tea and just talk about life. Just this week I was visiting Moab, Utah, and met up with a student leader for a night hike that I'd met two years ago at camp. The relationships forged by a week of attending to students and having a blast while doing so are very real and incredibly important.
Outdoor School gives student leaders the opportunity to truly cultivate their best self. My self-image, self-confidence, and identity can largely be attributed to my Outdoor School experiences. I’ve been inspired to pursue a career working with children, and fully intend to become an Outdoor School staff member after graduating from college in 2018.
Outdoor School has become a core aspect of my identity, and above all I am heartbroken to be writing in defense of it. I can see no reason why this wouldn’t be recognized as a wholesome, brilliant, effective asset to everyone involved. A world in which everyone experiences Outdoor School is a better one. By continuing to give students this opportunity, we are encouraging a greener, more peaceful, more sustainable future for this state, this planet, and for humanity.