This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 Harker Quarterly.
Once again, California was the classroom for students on the annual summer middle school backpacking trip. Soon after school let out, 16 students, accompanied by several teachers, headed off for a five-day trek through the Jackass Lakes region, just south of Yosemite National Park.
“Students carried all their own food, cooked all their own food, and learned to become independent in a new environment through teamwork, problem-solving, and math skills,” recalled middle school science teacher Daniel Sommer.
Sommer, along with fellow science teacher Ben Morgensen and middle school math teacher Margaret Huntley, accompanied the students on their wilderness adventure.
The trip was marked by beautiful weather and a great mix of first-time and returning hikers, some sleeping in a tent for the very first time and others taking on real leadership roles. All of the students took turns setting up camp and cooking dinner. They also learned how to catch fish in the lake and purify all their water.
Alex Rule, grade 9, has gone on the trip for the past few years. “The backpacking trip was a mixture of exhilaration, challenge and friendship. We were faced with some very difficult hikes, but we pushed each other along and achieved some of the greatest accomplishments of our lives. The views were breathtaking … but just as enjoyable as appreciating the magnificent nature was creating relationships with the other backpackers. I found myself really loving their personalities, and I could not have made it as far as I did without them,” he said.
The middle school backpacking trip was a casual, optional outdoor travel opportunity for students. This fall, many middle school students will participate in exciting, weeklong class trips, also providing hands-on learning outside the classroom. Last year, grade 6 students visited the Santa Cruz Mountains; grade 7 toured national parks around the Southwest; and grade 8 journeyed to Washington, D.C.
“Overall, my three years doing the [backpacking] trip have created some of the best weeks of my life, and I genuinely feel like other people interested in the trip will feel the same way if they decide to come along!” said Rule.