I write at the end of a weekend spent recovering from and contemplating the highs and lows of this year's 8th grade trip to the Mo Ranch Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) in the hill country of Texas. Upon arriving home close to midnight on Thursday evening, I found that beyond the fatigue I was feeling from a week of physical activity and the long bus ride back to Baton Rouge, I also experienced a sense of both relief and gratitude for another successful experience at Mo. Having released our students to their parents, who enthusiastically welcomed them home; responsibility for almost ninety students had shifted back to their families. Certainly, I was grateful to be free from that weighty load, but more than that, I was and continue to be thankful for the opportunities the trip provided for our students and the ways that I can sense that they have grown as a result.
In our middle school, the progression for grade-level travel begins in sixth grade through two day-long experiences, a friendship retreat in the early fall and a service learning day in the spring. In seventh grade, our students travel for three days to a large southern city (most recently Atlanta) to experience activities with both curricular connections and opportunities for fun and fellowship. The 8th grade Mo Ranch ELP experience is the culmination trip, a chance for students to experience even greater independence through a longer stay away from home.
All three trips require students to practice self-control and cooperation, to demonstrate good manners and behavior as they interact with bus drivers, venue docents, service personnel, and instructors who are not their regular teachers. Additionally, time away from school with their friends and classmates stretches our students’ capacity for patience, tolerance, and empathy in ways that benefit them individually and as a class. The time also provides the students with opportunities for both self-awareness and discovering more about their classmates and teachers. This social and emotional learning helps to solidify class identity and bonds of friendship, an added benefit for our school community as students prepare for the demands of upper school.
After more than three decades of experience with school trips, it seems reasonable to assume that traveling with middle school students would become routine and monotonous for me. The reality is that I still learn much that is valuable from these experiences, both about myself and about my colleagues and our spirited, multi-talented students. Undoubtedly, our travel experiences are demanding for all involved, but unquestionably, they are worth it, and we will continue to make them happen for our middle schoolers.
Lucy Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Millsaps College and a M.Ed. degree from Louisiana State University in school counseling. Additionally she maintains credentials as a Licensed Professional Counselor. After one year of teaching in the East Baton Rouge Parish School system, she joined Episcopal’s high school faculty in 1979. She has served Episcopal in a variety of capacities: high school English teacher, Upper School Counselor, Upper School Division Head, middle school English teacher, School Counselor, and her current role, Middle School Division Head. Throughout her tenure of leadership in the Middle School, she has taught sixth grade religion. She is the proud parent of two Episcopal alumni.