My sixth-grade year was the first year that my school didn't go to Outdoor School.
At the time, I didn't know that. I had never heard of Outdoor School and had no idea what I was missing. It wasn't until high school that I found out about ODS through volunteering as a Student Leader. I went for a week during the spring of my junior year. I had never considered myself a leader before that, and all of a sudden I was leading a cabin of 13 difficult boys by myself. It was one of the most challenging weeks of my life so far, but it was also one of the best. Outdoor School, I learned, is a magical place.
It was that magic that kept bringing me back. Over four years, I was a Student Leader six times. During those six weeks I learned more about the natural world, about communicating with people and mediating conflicts, about the power of silliness and song, and about being a leader than I did throughout the rest of my high school and college experience. Most importantly, I learned about myself and what I was capable of. During that sixth week, I realized that environmental education was what I wanted to do with my life.
A couple years later I was looking for a job in the middle of the recession, with no previous work experience and a not-yet-completed college degree. I was able to get a job that paid well, involved supervising and teaching students and doing the kind of outdoor work I love, all because my boss was familiar with Outdoor School, and knew that successful Student Leaders have great skill and make valuable employees.
A few years later, I had the privilege of being an Outdoor School Field Instructor at the same site that I had gone to as a Student Leader. Every week, I was able to experience and create that ODS magic.
ODS magic is a combination of many things. It is a shy student going on stage to sing a silly song. It is a high schooler transforming into a teacher. It is the feeling of being supported by a community that deeply cares about you. It is the moon and stars peeking through the silent trees. It is a giant toy moose wearing a staff vest or a principal dressed as a cowboy. It is when saying goodbye to someone you met three days ago is harder than saying goodbye to your best friend. It is magical because it is an experience that perhaps can only be found at Outdoor School.
Though I no longer work at Outdoor School I still teach, mentor, and work outside with high school students, and every day I use the skills, knowledge, and occasionally the silly songs I learned at Outdoor School. There is nothing that makes me smile bigger than when one of my students says to me, "I'm going to be a Student Leader at Outdoor School.
Photo Credit: Thomas and Velo Photography