Eleven Greenhill students are flying to North Carolina on Wednesday morning to participate in a four-day wilderness immersion program in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The ninth and tenth-grade students will spend four days in the wilderness learning self-reliance, leadership and independence by working together to navigate the backcountry. The trip is being sponsored by the non-profit group Outward Bound.
Greenhill teachers involved in the event hope students will come away from the trip with a greater appreciation for outdoor education.
“I think it is an amazing opportunity to learn in a very different setting and learn a very different set of skills that I think you can only acquire in an outdoor setting,” said Dr. Treavor Kendall, chair of the Upper School Science Department. “This trip represents a non-traditional way of teaching in a non-traditional classroom that I think needs to be taken into consideration with increasing frequency.”
Outward Bound is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing outdoor education to students. The group worked with Greenhill Science Department instructor Mike Krueger while planning a trip for a marine biology class in the summer of 2017. That trip did not happen, but the organization contacted Mr. Krueger when it received a donation that would fund another expedition for high school students.
“They called me last spring to say, ‘listen, we have some money and we would like to offer you a free trip, are you interested?’” Mr. Krueger said. “And I said, ‘well, of course, I’m interested.’”
The Science Department eventually decided to make the trip available to a group of ninth and tenth-graders. Students were chosen through a lottery system with an even ratio of girls to boys. About 30 students applied for the course and 11 were picked.
“I am really excited for the trip though I still don’t really know what to expect,” said ninth-grade student Ella Dzialowski. “I am really excited to hike and get to know the people on the trip better. I think it will be weird sleeping under tarps, but it will be a great adventure.”
Outward Bound is intentionally withholding trip details from Greenhill students and teachers. The group’s trips are designed to be strenuous and challenge participants physically, mentally, and emotionally.
“That is part of the mystique of Outward Bound,” said Mr. Krueger. “They don’t necessarily tell you until you are on the trip. You can tell them what you’d like to do and what type of focus you would like to have on the trip. We gave them some ideas and that was it.”
On arrival in North Carolina later today, the Greenhill group will set out into the Blue Ridge Mountains with minimal equipment, no tents, and all of their food and clothes on their backs. Students will learn safety precautions for backcountry foot travel, how to find campsites, how to navigate terrain and how to use a map and compass.
“They assume that people that take the course have no experience,” Dr. Kendall said. “People who have never been backpacking or hiking and do this for the first time are in a unique position because they are going to discover something pretty amazing for the first time.”
Outward Bound will provide guides and all equipment for students on the trip. The group will travel to the Outward Bound base camp today to pack their equipment, then immediately leave all technology behind as they head into the backcountry.
“I’m really excited to be out of Texas and in North Carolina where it will be nice and cool,” said student Jonah Yaffe, another trip participant. “I’ve gone to North Carolina many times before but I have never been backpacking there.”
Teachers hope this experience could inspire future trips.
“I think that will be partially determined by our experiences when we come back and present,” said Mr. Krueger. “I would be willing to do it again. We’ll see how the trip goes.”
The 11 Greenhill students selected for the trip will describe their experiences at an Upper School community assembly after their return. “I would love to see us do more of this and do more trips,” said Dr. Kendall. “This was fortuitous because there was a donation in place that helped with the costs, but my opinion is that outdoor education and outdoor leadership is an extremely important part of education and it needs to be featured within our curriculum.”
Photos by outwardbound.org