By Garrett Stern, Middle School math teacher
We asked seventh grade math teacher Garrett Stern to write an article about the annual seventh grade trip to The Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from the perspective of a student. In addition to learning important lessons about nature and outdoor exploration, the middle schoolers learned about friendship, resilience, and what it means to trust the process.
“G-d, when will this end?" I asked as the bus rolled into our new campsite. As you can see, I was not thrilled to be stuck out here. I’d grown up living in a place where free Wi-Fi was always within six feet … We stood outside in the pouring rain, silently cursing our bad luck. But the next day was worse. Rain beat down even harder, and we were forced to hang our tarp up on trees, using shoelaces to hold it together."
This year, the seventh grade annual pilgrimage to Grand Tetons National Park was met with inclement weather. Our sixty-four seventh grade souls, including the author of the snippet above, were tested by windy and frigid conditions. Some students feared the weather while others were daunted by teenage social challenges.
Our goals for the trip included leadership, camaraderie, and connection to nature. With names changed to protect the innocent, here are some anecdotes from the trip that met each of our goals.
Eli confided in Peyton, “Maria has been nice to me,” as he fished for information. Peyton cautioned, “You got to watch out for these girls. They will lead you on and you never know where you will end up.” Peyton, a 12-year-old boy who is wise beyond his years, took on a leadership role with Eli as he helped him navigate the dizzying world of seventh grade dating.
Believe it or not, some students choose to wake up a half hour early to play Uno. Boys willingly set their alarm clocks for 6:30 a.m., to play cards before 7:30 am breakfast. This tenacity demonstrates that seventh graders can get out of bed when sufficiently inspired. It also represents a wonderful example of camaraderie, as many students who do not ordinarily hang out together gathered each morning for a game.
At one of our meal times, a girl named Sophie was sitting alone. Then another seventh grade girl walked over to her to invite her to sit at her table. This act of kindness demonstrated laudable leadership. Furthermore, Sophie had a place to sit during lunchtime for the rest of the year. Lunch used to be her most feared time slot of the day; now, it is something to which she looks forward.
We spent as much time in nature as possible, uninhibited by harsh conditions. The teachers wondered if having the students spend time outside in the cold and rain would dampen their connection to nature.
Here is what one girl had to say:
“I’ve never been this close to nature ever in my life. Learning about the science of nature helped me understand why parts of the world are how they are today. Being out in the Tetons opened my eyes to the world around me, and I understand it better now. Also, I don’t just see the world now; I notice things about it. It’s as if I never realized the true beauty of the world; I only looked from the outside. I will never forget this trip and the memories I've made. I won't forget the sound of laughter, the wind’s breath, or the giant mountains."