In sixth grade, on March 12th, I had lost my mother to cancer. I didn't go to school for at least a week, after learning that my mom had lost her battle. My father had passed on the news to my teacher, Mrs. Smith, or "Daisy." My class supported me, signing a card, and giving me a stuffed white bunny. A few weeks later, I would be heading to Sandy River Outdoor School, right after my sixth grade spring break.
While I was at Sandy in sixth grade, I remember being in Yew cabin, and sharing a cabin with a few of my classmates. I remember my Student Leaders, "Scout" and "Piper".
During my sixth grade ODS experience, I remember Piper playing the bagpipes for flag every morning. We stood in the flag lines, to hear her while the flag would be raised. Being at ODS took my mind off of what was going on at home. My mom passing away recently, and my dad being an alcoholic. My life was rough. My dad didn't know how to take care of my brother and I. He struggled a lot.
“Polaris” was the water field Instructor. I connected to her, because she really made me feel like she cared about me, even though she had just met me. Everybody made me feel cared about: Piper, Scout, Minnie, Wikipedia, Polaris, and Snake were my support. I remember them like it was yesterday.
While on soil field study, I remember playing in the Mud Farm. My group and I had almost all fell into the mud. It was one of the funnest things I can remember from my Outdoor School experience. I also remember going out for field study with my SL (Student Leader), Scout. She showed us some licorice fern, and let us eat it. It tasted good, from what I remember. She also let us try Oxalis, it tasted like a green apple, and to this day, I can point out an Oxalis easily.
Come Friday, I was tired, and ready to go home. But, I truly didn't want to, simply because returning home also meant losing my best friend Tristan. Her last day with my class would be the last day of ODS for our group.
When we got on the bus to leave, we were all a mess of tears, but I didn't cry. Somehow, I felt a bit numb. So many things were happening in such little time. I didn't know how to feel exactly. The staff sang us out, and we left to go home on the old yellow bus, smelling of soil, tears, and grass.
My life onward from my ODS experience in sixth grade was emotional. I spent my days in sixth and seventh grade going to school, coming home to a drunk father, and also going to counseling for losing my mother. I began to self-harm. I began to get frustrated and cry daily. I was not happy.
Over the summer, between sixth and seventh grade, my dad had assaulted me. Child Protective Services were called, and I was taken away from my father. I moved up to Vancouver, to live with my aunt and my cousin. My life had seemed to get a little better, but I was still very emotional from what my life had become. I was never truly happy with my situation. I had thoughts like, "What did I do to deserve this?" and, "Will I ever be happy again?"
The following summer, before I would go to high school, I was faced with a decision: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics or David Douglas High School. I chose to move back in with my dad, and go to David Douglas High school.
I began my freshman year with absolutely no friends at all. I had no idea how big the school was, and what my possibilities were. I decided to take choir, theatre, and many other classes. While in my General Science class, I had Mr. Rogers. He taught me a lot, and he was a key point in my love for science today. He had recommended that I take Advanced General Science during the second semester of my freshman year. I took it, thinking I'd love it. I failed that class, and had to take it one of the following years.
During my sophomore year, I had almost dropped out. I skipped school, ‘cause I was being bullied by a group of girls. I had made it to my drop date, and had gotten a call from my school, saying that if I didn't come in for at least one of my classes, that I would be dropped from the school. I went to class that day, for the first time in 10 days. I remember that I missed a total of 88 class periods in that time.
I had the chance to talk to my school counselor that day, and I asked him a question. "Would I be able to go to Outdoor School as a high school Student Leader during second semester?" Mr.Sanders told me I couldn't. He also told me that if I brought up my grades and passed at least five classes during second semester, I could go my Junior year. I passed five classes.
Summer had gone by. I had made a new best friend. Her name was Morgan. She would later go on to be "Moo". We decided to go to the Outdoor School workshop together, in the fall of 2012. I went, and I decided that my SL name would be "Energy," signed with a star afterwards. I had decided that this would be my name, simply because [of] my sister. She had only gone to one week while she was in high school, and her name was "En'Ergy."
I liked it a lot. It felt like it really fit me. To this day, I can’t help but smile every time I hear the word "Energy". My first week would be the sixth week of the fall session. I had two other Student Leaders in my cabin with me. Their names were "Nootka" and "Shazam". They didn't exactly get along.
We had a great cabin of strong sixth graders, who were filled with excitement throughout their half-weeks.
I went on to become a fifth-time Student Leader. I went on to become a very happy person. I remember a lot of my students, but some really stand out in my memory.
I remember this girl. She slept on the top bunk in my cabin, she had special needs, and needed extra support. She was one the sweetest and strongest girls that I have ever had the honor of meeting and teaching. She was brave, she would try very hard during recreation, field studies and class meetings. She had a beautiful soul. I won't say her name, to protect her privacy. But she made me feel like I made a difference, at least in her life. She would light up at times and break into tears at others. I wish I had gotten to know her better.
There were also these two deaf/hard-of-hearing students that I had the chance to teach while on soil field study. They had an interpreter, so I could also understand them and so they could understand me better. They lit up while I taught them. They tried really hard, and for the most part, could read my lips. They paid such high attention during their week, not only to me, but to everybody. I could see them going so far in life. I was beyond proud to teach them, and see that they had gotten something out of their experience in sixth grade. I felt like I made a difference in their lives, they also made a difference in mine.
I also had the chance to teach this sixth grader, who had a SNEED (specific needs assistant) with him. He had been having such a hard time with his week, he wasn't always the happiest camper, but once he was on my field study in water, He lit up. I had never seen a sixth grader change so much, from being on other field studies to coming to mine. He was answering questions, he was putting in crazy effort. He didn't understand everything the first time through, but after a few minutes, it was like it would all click. It seemed that we had just made such an easy connection. I loved making such a difference to him and being able to see his smile on field study. I was so proud of him.
Come fall of 2013, I [was] set to go on first week. During Workshop in the fall, a branch had come down and hit a powerline, which resulted in the loss of the first half of my Week 1 experience. This was my third week as a Student Leader. I was very upset that the first half had been canceled. The last half of the week was able to commence. It was a great week. Crazy, but amazing.
After my week had ended, a little bit of time had gone by, and it turned out that a Week 7 had been added. Everybody scheduled for Week 1 was allowed to come to Week 7. Most did. Week 7 of the fall would be my luckiest week. It meant that I would be able to get a fifth week in the spring. I was so happy, and full of appreciation, not just because the sixth graders that were on the original Week 1 were able to come to a week, instead of it just being canceled, but because I had the chance to make more of a difference. I'd get to see more faces. Meet other sixth graders that otherwise wouldn't have been able to come for a week in sixth grade. I'm so thankful for this amazing program that we call Outdoor School.
In the spring of 2014, I was able to come for my fifth and final week as a Student Leader, May 11-16. Turns out, one of the classmates that I went to ODS with in sixth grade would also have their final week with me. Her name was now "Katana". She and I weren't friends between all those years, from sixth grade to our senior years of high school. But thanks to ODS, we were able to reconnect. We became good friends at Outdoor School. I was so grateful to have her there during my final week, and to have her hold me while I broke down on the last night of that week. I remember crying to the point of choking. I was hyperventilating. This was the end. The end of this amazing part of my life. The following day, I had my "Death March" with another Student leader named "Guava". She was amazing. She didn't cry. I did. Everything felt like it was becoming so real. So out of touch, but so close together.
I would come to realize it wasn't an end though. It was just a good checkpoint in this life that I had come to know. After getting home that night, I had broken completely down, again. I was getting evicted from my home. Prom was a day away. Then graduation would be coming in just a few weeks. I hadn't even gotten my cap and gown yet. I had just a few days to get it. Luckily, I did.
I would end up living with my partner at that point, and things wouldn't get better for me. Come graduation, my partner didn't choose to come. My father, aunt, uncle, and cousin did. They were very proud of me. I had just turned 18 a few days before, and adulthood was hitting me like a kick in the gut.
It was so unreal. During summer, I would be homeless, living on the street in Vancouver, because that was the only place that I could turn to. I was ashamed of what my life had become.
Not soon enough, I was able to make a call. One call that changed my life. A call to my cousin, to come pick me up, and help me. I fell down, reaching for help, and she came to my side. I lived with her for a little while. She helped me get an ID, a job, and a bank account.
Soon again, I would move back in with the partner that had let me go. I gave him a second chance. It worked out, for a while. I feel that people deserve second chances, maybe even third chances. Especially if you love them.
During the time that I lived with him, I was able to be a Special Needs volunteer for a few times.
My first time as a SNEED, I went to Howard, then was moved to Sandy, because they needed lots of support. “Coho” drove me there. I was so excited to help whomever I could. The week turned out to be a crazy and amazing week. Still a split week, but, amazing.
The following spring, in 2015 I would go to Arrah Wanna, for my second SNEED experience. The week was very mellow one half, and difficult the other [half]. The sixth grader I was supporting, during the difficult half, was a great kid. He was kind at times, and shined very bright. Other times, he really just needed a friend, and I felt lost. I felt like he didn't like me. But that was okay. What mattered is that I was his support. He earned his beads and he did well on field study. Maybe I wasn't the best support, but I was enough. I was enough for this kid to succeed, where maybe he wouldn't have without me.
I remember him asking me to spell long words for him, over and over again. I even wrote them down, and he would look at the words again and again. Then he'd ask me to spell another. I would spell as many words as he needed, if he asked. He was wonderful, and spontaneous.
In the fall of 2015, I would come out to Howard for my third week as a SNEED. I'd actually stay the week this time. I had this kid. And I will never forget him. He was amazing, so sweet and nice and just a wonderful kid. He had a lot of needs. He couldn't have soy, wheat, dairy, gluten, sugar, mushrooms, or sesame seeds. I have that memorized, and I probably always will. He also had very bad depth perception. He could not tell the difference between four feet and four inches. He lived in Chinook cabin, with a student leader named "Yo-yo". I went with him to all of his field studies, I hung out with his cabin throughout the week and had a great opportunity to get to know him. We really bonded. He became one of the most memorable people that I have ever known.
There's this song, called "Barges". A lot of people know it, and it has become one of my favorite songs. The sixth-grader that I had during this week in Chinook, he came to love that song. He even asked me to write down all of the words, so he could memorize it. I did. He took it home.
By the end of the week, this kid had become such a special part of my ODS experience. He made such a difference in my life. During Final Flag, I was already crying, alongside Yo-Yo. After Final Flag, my kid had come up to me, and had started singing "Barges" to me. I lost it. I lost it and I gave him a hug, and tried really hard to bring myself together, as I waved him goodbye, and sang him and the rest of the sixth graders out. This week was my favorite week.
Another few months had gone by. I [was] a SNEED for the fourth time May 8-13, 2016. I returned to Howard. The kid I had this time, was a young woman, who was very shy, but very sweet. She came under a different name, and was with a class that wasn't actually her own. She had one friend at the beginning of the week. By the end, many more.
She didn't exactly needed me. So, I was able to help her class, as best I could. The class she came with was so high energy. They were all great kids. She actually ended up on Final Flag, and I'm beyond proud, she made a whole turn around during this week. She made me see a part that I had never seen before, that people can change, so easily.
It's astounding that putting four classes of sixth-graders together, that don't know each other at all, can change all of the sixth graders so much. And what I mean by that, is that it's crazy to think that four classes of sixth-graders can all become great friends over a week. In the world outside of Outdoor School, it's not that easy. I really hope all of the students for this last week had a great time. They all seemed like they did.
Now. Over the time that I've been going to Outdoor School, I've changed a lot. For the better. All 10 weeks that I have had the honor of going, they've all made a difference. A huge one. They pick me up. They have built me to be strong, shaped my life in such an unbelievable way. I've had the chance to meet so much of the staff. Whether they all know it or not, all of the staff that I have met, all of the sixth-graders, all of the Student Leaders, all of the other SNEEDs, everybody I've met at Outdoor School, has made a huge difference in my life.
I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for Outdoor School.
I don't know if I'd be alive.
I don't know if I would've have graduated high school.
I don't know if I would have a home.
I don't know if I would have a job.
Or for that matter, I don't know if I would have anything that I do today, If it weren't for Outdoor School. If it weren't for going in sixth grade. Where I learned to begin loving myself, and loving science, and water.
I owe it all to "Scout" and "Piper" for being my Student Leaders in sixth grade. I owe it to everybody involved with this program. They all saved me.