We just got back from our Winter Ecology Field Study at Camp Perkins, up near Stanley, ID. The goals of this field study are wide ranging. Groups of students learn snow science, avalanche safety, winter adaptation of animals, and winter tracking of animals, among other skills. The objectives of the trip, however, are much broader than the winter ecology topics we dive into.
The “Perkins Trip”, as we call it, falls at the end of our second trimester and often at a time when the fabric of our community seem to start to fray a bit. It tends to be that time in the middle of the winter when some students start to say to each other : “Just leave me alone”. Rather than ‘grinning and bearing it’ or simply ignoring it, we see this as a time to lean in, a time to actively expend some effort constructing our community culture.
This community construction takes the form of things ranging from game nights and a student run dance to mixing the ages in rooms for some new possibilities of relationships. A dance where, mind you, that because we are on a winter trip near Stanley, takes the form of students dancing in long johns and down puffy pants. A dance attended by 6th through 12th graders- by the entire student body, in fact. A dance where a 6th grader and 12th grader can have an active dance off, and frequently do. A dance that is a student driven event the buoys everyone’s mood, and is not about what you wore and if anyone asked you to dance. It is about being a kid- a teen- joyfully and with intention.
This construction also takes the form of deeper conversations led by our teachers. Like the one we had with our seniors about the importance of vulnerability within a community as a tool to allow connection and understanding with your peers. Even as seniors, they learn and grow emotionally. It is also like the conversation that the 8/9 had on how they are relating to each other- and each of the other bands taking the time to pay attention to their dynamics as part of the curriculum.
Connection and understanding are major factors of why we find it is so important to constantly and actively cultivate a sense of community at our school. Many of us can remember back to a time during our adolescence when we felt disconnected- whether that be from family, friends, or school groups. Connection to community and friends is key for our development of a sense of self and self worth. So we put in the time with our student to have the fun needed to create connection by playing games, telling jokes, and allowing space for them to be with each other. We also put in the deep work of asking the tricky questions, exploring group dynamics, and upholding community norms.
All of this creates the atmosphere of our students feeling connected to the Sage Community and their friend group beyond. As one of our Alumni Devon noted at a recent alumni event about what Sage taught her about community: “I learned how to connect to a variety of age groups- from kids to adults, we can manage relationships with all of them.”
We can tell you all of this, or we can tell you what the kids said at the end of their week together, and let them speak on our behalf. We can cite the11th grader saying that the best part of Sage is “walking down the hall and knowing you have something to say to everybody who walks by- from 6th grade to teachers” or to the 10th grader who recently spoke to the school board on behalf of Sage, saying “because of what we learn at Sage, we have the skills and ready to lead the next generation” or a 9th grader who says that she is learning “to be a better person and build a better world.” Ultimately, it may rest in the several students who simply said they are “excited to go to school every day”.
These are lifelong skills, but ones that need to be actively taught and reinforced. We tackle that process because we know the power of students having the ability to be an active and constructive member of their community when they head on to their next steps in life. And, it also makes today’s journey for them that much more enjoyable and meaningful.