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A Transformative Experience

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Jul 19, 2017 10:00 AM |

Every spring, a group of eighth grade students from Licton Springs K-8 School in Seattle embark on a week-long backpacking trip in one of Washington’s iconic locations. This June, the students headed out on a six night trip along Ross Lake in the North Cascades. To help make that trip possible, the students borrowed tents, packs, shoes and sleeping bags from WTA’s gear library.

Every spring, a group of eighth grade students from Licton Springs K-8 School in Seattle embark on a week-long backpacking trip in one of Washington’s iconic locations. The trip lets them step outside of their comfort zone and engage in hands-on, experiential learning.

This transformative outdoor education program, called Rites of Passage, was created more than 20 years ago. Since then, more than 500 students have gone through the program.

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Licton Springs students join WTA on multiple day work parties throughout the year to prepare themselves for their culminating backpacking trip in the spring. Photo by Rachel Wendling.

Chris Sommarstrom, a math teacher at Licton Springs and current leader of Rites of Passage, helps prepare the class for their trip. The students volunteer in the community in the school year before their trip. Whether they’re sorting food with Northwest Harvest or building drains on a WTA work party, the students are regularly out helping others. There’s an added benefit to working with WTA before hitting the trail.

“The work parties do a great job of showing the eighth graders how much time and effort go into building and maintaining the routes we use during our week-long backpacking trip,” says Chris.

“Trail work days are fun, I’m always happy when one is coming up,” says Jha’Quez Konick-Seese, an eighth-grader at Licton Springs. “I like that we get to say hi and talk with the passers-by, and tell them about what we’re doing. A lot of them are really interested! ” Jha’Quez said the McLeod is his favorite trail work tool. “I just enjoy displacing dirt.”

There’s no formal lesson plan for the backpacking trip. Instead, the goal is to build independence and leadership while strengthening the students’ connection with the natural world through challenges like strenuous day hikes that push the students physically and a day of silence that tests their ability to focus on nature and communicate without words.

“It’s a pretty life-changing experience, putting them out of their comfort zone,” says Chris.

This June, the students headed out on a six night trip along Ross Lake in the North Cascades. To help make that trip possible, the students borrowed tents, packs, shoes and sleeping bags from WTA’s gear library.

“WTA’s gear library provides the opportunity for all of my students to be dressed appropriately for the weather and to be prepared for a safe and fun day on trail,” says Chris. “Getting almost-new gear for the kids to use makes for a really positive experience, and it makes them want to come back.”

This article originally appeared in the July+Aug 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.

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