At the end of each year, Lighthouse students go on a multi-day camping trip. The excursion is both eagerly anticipated and somewhat angst-inspiring for students. Students buzz with excitement at the prospect of a change of scenery and a break from academics. Some enthusiastically discuss the possibilities while others quietly worry about being away from the comforts of home and facing the unknown.
The camps are done by grade, and each grade, accompanied by a group of teachers, does something a little different than the others. My homeroom class, Grade 10, stayed in a Catholic center on the beach in Riambel, a small town in the south of Mauritius. There were no tents – everyone slept in dormitories, so our trip qualified more as a retreat than as camping. All the same, the experience turned out to be exactly what the group needed.
Each grade-level at Lighthouse consists of one or two “classes.” The students in each class spend the majority of their days together and each develops its own pervading outlook, group dynamics, and energy. My homeroom class, Grade 10, which I share with the talented and kind Ms. Emma (who teaches math), has more than its fair share of brilliant and dedicated artists, academics, athletes, and leaders. In fact, when it comes to leadership, despite being one of the smaller classes, Grade 10 has had the highest number of students apply for and gain school leadership positions. However, they are also the most reserved and least transparent group in the school. They are a class of islands, unique and wonderful but also standing alone.
Friendships in Grade 10 are usually limited to pairs or trios, and many are candid about having no close connections at all with the other young people they spend most of their waking hours with. Most have spent years together, but familiarity has not bred comradery. Of course, feeling alone at fifteen is a common, if not universal, right of adolescence. But the depth to which it defines this group is unique. With this observation in mind, my fellow chaperones and I looked forward to this year’s camp trip as an opportunity to build relationships with and among the students of this fragmented class.
During the three days of the trip, only the first day went mostly as planned. The vans dropped us at the top of Black River Gorges where the temperature was easily ten degrees cooler than at the school. Drizzle and a strong, steady wind chilled our exposed limbs as we began the six-mile trek down the mountain.
Sunshine and exercise soon warmed us up as we walked, jogged, and climbed our way down. During our hike we were greeted by an abundance of scenic overlooks (including one from the top of a waterfall). Near the end of the hike, sweaty and tired, the students were excited to find a river to jump into.
That night after settling into the dorms and eating dinner, we kindled a fire on the beach and made smores. Since we didn’t have any matches, we had to light some kindling on the stove in the kitchen, put it in a pot, and run the pot to the beach to start the fire. We also had to ward off one student from using his spray deodorant to help fuel the blaze.
On day two, we were supposed to go to Roche Qui Pleure, a landmark on the southern coast where the waves pummel the rocky cliffs and shores. We were to take public transport to the location, but it happened that no buses ran the route from the retreat center to the cliffs. So, several campers familiar with the area suggested a local waterfall instead. After a cursory Google search of the site, off we went on foot.
The images on Google did not prepare me for the actual size of the waterfall. Water crashed over dark geometric columns of stone down into a bottomless pool. One by one, daring students took turns plunging off of the rocks and splashing down into the pool. For a few, it took almost the whole visit and the encouragement of their peers to finally work up the courage to jump.
The third and final day we deviated from the menu and treated the students to bacon, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast. This broke the rules a little, but the students loved it.
After breakfast, having packed our belongings and cleaned, swept, and mopped the dormitories, we mounted ourselves and our things onto the waiting bus. We were scheduled for yet another test of our courage. We were supposed to cross a 1100-foot Nepalese rope bridge in Valee Des Couleurs. However, instead of testing our mettle, we ended up testing our adaptability.
The bus roared down streets, pop music blaring, as riders talked, slept, and played games. After some time, Ms. Emma noticed that we were taking a rather indirect route to the rope bridge. However, it wasn’t until we were half-way up the island that we asked the driver where he was taking us.
“To the school,” he replied matter of factly.
“What? No. Pull over!” we demanded. There had been an error (it was later confirmed to us that the driver had been at fault). It being too late in the day and us being too far away to make it to the rope bridge and back to school on time; we would have to continue to the school and wait there.
Up to that point, the trip had been a resounding success, and my fellow teachers, Ms. Emma and Ms. Anais, and I were determined to end on a high note. So, we decided on an alternative activity: McDonalds. It was an incredibly popular decision.
The great thing about these camps is the small but real differences they can make in the lives of students.
The trip brought the individual islands of Grade 10 closer together so that loose acquaintances were strengthened into genuine friendships. I watched as pairs who never talked at school chatted during free time or laughed over a game of cards. Student groupings mixed, changed, and grew.
Following the camp, my co-chaperones and I received an email from the parent of one of our campers, a kind-hearted young lady who was new to the school this year and who had been quietly struggling to adapt. The parent expressed how, on returning from the trip, her daughter felt like she had finally found her place and that she now had a small group of friends and a sense of belonging.
Another young lady described to me how this experience helped her find connections with classmates she had shared class space with for years but had, until that point, never gotten to know. At one point, when she felt overwhelmed; she was surprised at how her classmates rallied to support her.
The camp also inspired boldness. A shy, sarcastic young man who normally spent most of his time in front of a screen distinguished himself by engaging in every activity without fear or hesitation. He was one of the first to jump from Rochester Falls. After the camp, his mother emailed to share that this young man had thoroughly enjoyed the experience and that he had come home with a bit more maturity than when he left.
There were others who, for personal or medical reasons, had never been away from their families overnight. Each one did well and returned home much more secure in their independence. These and many other small victories and moments of growth are what make camp special.
For me, this time with students was a refreshing chance to engage with them outside of the framework of academics, and to take a moment to enjoy them as young people apart from the classroom. It was also gratifying to witness how a change of scenery, some time together, and the chance to challenge themselves germinated the seeds of camaraderie, boldness, and maturity that will continue to shape them as the they become adults.