NEWRY — It’s early morning and the weather reports say 27 degrees and ice fog on May 6th in Newry, Maine. Trekkers Student Leaders are already up and beginning in on another long hike, after their first night trekking hours to their campsite and setting up in pouring rain.
Months before, these student leaders had the opportunity to decide between two leadership tracks – to stay local and learn more about mentoring younger students or to embark on a challenging, 5-day expedition led in partnership by staff from Trekkers and the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS), an opportunity to experience more about group dynamics, firsthand. On both tracks, students would lead the activities. Seven students chose the 5-Day Expedition, which launched from HIOBS’s “LL Bean Mountain Center” in Newry, Maine. Some may have muttered regret, which would have looked like puffs of breath disappearing into the cold of the morning as they began another climb.
While Trekkers is a 6-year program where students typically stay on the same team, the leadership program includes students from multiple teams. Starting in 7th grade, Trekkers students build solid relationships with peers and leaders, and learn social-emotional skills like persistence, optimism, trust, collaboration, and action-orientation. This however was a new level – a sort of “pressure cooker” experience to test those skills and take them to the next level.
Students voiced that it was more difficult than they expected. One student, Ryker, pointed to the first day’s rain as “draining” and another student Kelsey found that having the motivation to get up and going in the cold was the most challenging aspect of the trip. But by the end of the experience, there was certainly a change.
Program Manager TJ looked back on it saying, “Something truly magical happens to a group who is in the wilderness and carrying everything they need on their own backs, and that magic showed up on this expedition. Student leaders learned the value of working together, of using their voices to drive a process, and gained immense trust in one another and in the Trekkers staff as leaders. By the end, several students were able to identify their own growth as leaders over the five days spent together.”
Students voiced that their growth came in the form of teamwork. Kelsey noted her own change, “I saw my strengths grow on this trip…I used to not want to talk at all.” Jimmy agreed, saying “I completely agree, I think that was really impressive growth from really quiet Kelsey to Kelsey who made sure her voice was heard and that she was there.”
HIOBS’s instructional staff noted that the adversity of challenging uphill climbs carrying heavy packs became a source of pride and perspective. Additionally, they observed that many students were able to see the effects that their intentionally positive attitudes had on their group.
The expedition helped students see how important each person and their voice was to the overall progress. “I feel like I learned that whatever your strength is, it’s really important to the group. If it’s something small or big – [everyone] can really help the group and the mood or overall atmosphere…” said Ryker. “I feel like we learned so much but…[all] things you may not have noticed.” Jimmy agreed, saying “I felt it was really valuable to watching others lead the group, ‘cause then you could be like ‘I want to make sure I stay in contact with the group so we can hear everyone’s voice or I want to make sure I do [this other thing next time].’”
Back at base, the morning of departure looked very different than the one of arrival. The sun was out, people were laughing, birds were chirping, and it was (slightly) warmer. The challenge was behind, and all that was left was the miles hiked, lessons learned, relationships built, and the proof that what seemed insurmountable could actually be fun.
For over 25 years, non-profit organization Trekkers has been dedicated to helping young people thrive. Through its unique six-year mentoring and expeditionary learning program, research shows measurable increases in resiliency, relationship-building, and aspirations for students. To learn more, visit the website at trekkers.org.