The Enduring Magic of Middle School Team Trips
“It’s like I’m in a new family now.”
After a two year hiatus, Moses Brown’s Middle School was collectively overjoyed to resume Team Trips, held this year September 13-16. From its inception in 1978, this beloved start-of-the-year ritual has grown to what Jared Schott, Head of Middle School calls “a rite of passage.”
Three teams spend up to four days and three nights in a rural location with virtually endless activities geared toward team building and learning more about nature, one another, themselves, and the MB philosophy. The fifth grade, now part of the Middle School community, spent one overnight at Nature’s Classroom in Charlton, Mass. The seventh and sixth grade both went to Connecticut, staying at Colebrook’s Camp Jewell and Chester’s Camp Hazen, respectively. Eighth graders went to Purity Springs in East Madison, N.H.
As many of Moses Brown’s middle school constituents will attest, this experience is fundamental to establishing friendships, strengthening existing ones, and forming community bonds quickly among kids and faculty alike.
“Navigating the whole experience of camping in a cabin with their classmates, eating meals together, and spending all their time together created connections that will last all year,” says humanities teacher Carolyn Garth. “It truly established our community in a way that we could not have done on campus.”
At their core, Team Trips have long meant taking students out into nature and out of their comfort zones to instill self-confidence, interdependence, and community.
Graham Holland, history teacher and academic team leader, marvels at the speed of the effect, especially around the third-night bonfire.
“Students and teachers form a lasting web of new connections and learn more about each other (and themselves!) than they would in a month’s worth of regular school,” he says.
Physical and health education teacher Jim Skillings echoes Graham’s assessment and is living proof that the program never loses its luster. The veteran of 37 Team Trips has let nothing keep him from going on the trip.
Depending on the grade level and destination, the structured challenges include archery, canoeing, fire building, hiking, kayaking, mountain climbing, outdoor cooking, ropes courses, and trail games. Free time yields choices of basketball, diving, fishing, kickball, or tennis. Day three for the eighth grade involves rotating between stations of American Sign Language lessons, tie-dye shirt design, and egg-drop basket building.
One first-year MB student singled out the rope swing experience. “They pulled you all the way to the top, and then let go, and you just swung so far.”
Everyone similarly covers literal and figurative distance on the mountain hike. For the eighth graders and their teachers, an eight-mile trek up New Hampshire’s Mt. Chocorua forges bonds through sweat and soreness. It is a worthwhile price to pay for captivating views of Chocorua Lake and Mount Washington plus lasting, bottomless tubs of trust.
“We all have to work together to progress up the mountain,” says English teacher Mo Nagle. “This might mean offering a hand over a slippery rock, or a word of encouragement when someone is frustrated.”
History teacher Christine Griffin sees the same level of kindness on the sixth-grade ropes course. “There are lots of ‘You can do it’ and ‘Trust yourself’ cheers and ‘Keep going’ and ‘It’s ok, you are doing amazing,’’” she says.
For Jared, these shared challenges healthfully expose a “vulnerability” one might otherwise not naturally or willingly show.
“For kids, it’s like an opportunity to say, ‘Okay, my teachers care about who I am as a person, as a human,’” Jared says. Christine and Jim both note that it works the same way in reverse.
That brings dividends once everyone is immersed in course work and a teacher realizes a subject is not a given student’s strong suit. Both parties remember how students confronted a different daunting challenge on the trip, how with effort they achieved their goal, and how they exchanged encouragement with their peers.
“They are making memories and building trust that will guide them into the year feeling good about their social connections,” says Mo. “That is so very important in middle school.”
She adds, “When kids feel secure in themselves and in their friendships, they can take the kind of academic risks we offer in the classroom, which all leads to opportunities for tremendous growth.”
Nowhere is that growth more evident than in the quantity and quality of the first-year MB student’s friend networks.
“By the end of the trip, the idea is that everybody who is new at Moses Brown will know everybody at their grade level,” Jared says.
At least one student achieved that goal, testifying that “I know everyone’s name now.”
Another recognizes at least “the majority of the people,” but indicates there is much to build on. “I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year.”
As for the first-year student who invested trust in the rope swing, that ride might as well symbolize the towering new range of friends. “It’s like I’m in a new family now, and it’s really fun.”
Contributing writer: Al Daniel