Nerves Turn to Confidence
Alison Mohrbacher
By Alison Mohrbacher
Middle School English
 
September 21, 2018
 
One of my favorite parts of working at Forest Ridge is the opportunity to participate in learning experiences that both support and extend the work we do in the classroom. As a teacher here, I am both expected - and allowed - to work with my students beyond their academic endeavors, and the school values the interconnected nature of all types of growth.
 
The grade level experiential leadership trips, in particular, provide students with the opportunity to push past their comfort zones. Those of us who chaperone these trips get to watch as they embrace their strength and have fun with each other. I had the privilege of joining the eighth graders recently on their five-day foray into camping, climbing, and hiking on their customized Outward Bound course. This partnership allows them to capitalize on both the technical expertise of Outward Bound instructors and the unique Forest Ridge mission-centered community.
 
This year, we arrived at our campground to an unexpected spell of sunshine and warmth. Over the next three days, groups rotated through hiking to Watson Lake; climbing, belaying (use of a climbing rope), and repelling at Mount Erie. The girls also provided an in-service at the Angele Cupples Community Garden with Mayor Jason Miller of Concrete, Washington. As chaperones we rotated through the different groups, witnessing each student stretch herself in different activities. While the sunshine may not have stuck with us the entire time, we were lucky to have sunny, even warm, climbing days and many dry evenings for some rounds of Sprout Ball, Wah, s’mores-making, and a talent show.
 
The climbing and repelling days were a highlight for many of the students -- and for me as a chaperone. As a teacher, it’s powerful to get to see an eighth grader who is nervous, at first, to be up high and tied into a belay system, treat herself with patience and trust as she steps over the edge of the cliff and convinces herself that she is capable of repelling to her friends below. It’s amazing to see that same eighth grader encourage her classmate to go a little further, try a little longer and look for another solution when that classmate feels stuck on a climb. There were a couple students who were frustrated from a lack of comfort and progress on the wall and ready to come down, but then they received a little nudge from their friends and soon found themselves at the top of their routes, looking down, unable to contain their joy at the hard work they had just done. Nothing beats hearing that first moment of unfiltered surprise and pride when a student turns around at the top of her climb and says “Woah!”
 
One of these students later shared that “at first I was scared … I thought about all of the bad possibilities that could happen -- what if the rope breaks, what if my classmates blame me for being too slow, what if I die…but that’s when I realized that my classmates were there the whole time cheering me on…and finally! BAM! I reached the top. When I saw the peak of the rope and the beautiful scenery, I felt like crying. It was such a scary, challenging, but heartwarming experience for me that I will cherish it for the rest of my life.”
 
It’s no secret that this trip causes many students and parents to feel that uncomfortable little flutter in their stomachs, especially as they start to sort through the paperwork and check-off the packing list. It is a challenging experience. That’s the point. Or at least one of them. We ask our students to push themselves everyday in the classroom, and we tell them that discomfort, uncertainty, and challenge are all important parts of the learning process. That, in fact, the little flutter in their stomachs is often a great sign that the work they’re doing is worth it. This is true when they are writing a complicated essay, taking a math test, designing an experiment, or creating a self-portrait in art. It’s also true when they are learning to understand their personal strength, trust their friends, participate in their surroundings, and engage in a new opportunity.
 
So, while the anticipation of the trip may be tough and lead to nerves and jitters, the payoff is high and important. As one student shared this year, “it was one of the best experiences of my life…it was challenging but at the end you get to see what you achieved, and you feel proud of yourself.”
 
Isn’t that exactly what we want for all of our students this year? That they will be challenged and, in the end, see what they achieved and feel proud of themselves.
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