Whether rappelling down a dam, making their way through a ropes course high above the ground, or navigating a hike in the woods, Harlem Academy middle school students were up for every challenge during their three-day, overnight trip to the Princeton-Blairstown Center (PBC) in New Jersey earlier this month.
Each October, our students travel with teachers and parent chaperones to PBC for team-building exercises, physical challenges, and outdoor educational activities in acres of wilderness. “The trip is a great opportunity to see the school pillars of initiative, integrity, compassion, and determination in action,” says Assistant Head of School LaShonda Davis.
Students are gaining exposure to a new, challenging environment. Because they participate for three years in a row, by eighth grade they feel at home at PBC. “The experience builds confidence and fosters a growth mindset in our students, which they’ll carry with them as they navigate other new environments at secondary school,” Ms. Davis explains.
During the course of their stay at PBC, students participate in adventure-based learning – fun yet challenging activities that enable them to work together as a team, lead and motivate others, push beyond their comfort zones, bond with classmates, and cheer each other on. “Despite being afraid or unsure, each student showed great determination as they rock climbed, completed obstacle courses, zip-lined, and walked through the woods with only the stars lighting their path,” says Ms. Davis.
Eighth grader Jah’si Eyre was tentative about the high ropes course, but he went for it anyway. “Heights make me nervous, so climbing up was scary. After I completed the course I felt proud. I thought, ‘Yeah! I did that!’”
“Some students never thought they could climb so high or work so hard to reach their targets,” says Ms. Davis, who relished the look of pride and amazement on students’ faces as they accomplished goal after goal.
Many of the activities required cooperation and communication for success, and our students worked together to make it happen. “At one point, we had to walk across a line of blocks while also holding a block and not dropping it,” recalls eighth grader Lisa Lushtak. “At first it seemed easy, but as soon as we started we realized that it required more attention to detail than we thought. People went too fast or accidently dropped the block. We had to think and work as a team in order to finish.”
Jah’si agrees as he thinks back on other activities that also required teamwork: “Most of the time, working as a team is great because you can lean on others. But it can also be difficult because everybody has different ideas. Listening to each other and making sure everyone is heard is how we became a successful team.”
Just as important as team building and confidence boosting, the PBC trips give kids a chance to get out of the city, stay overnight in rustic cabins, and simply have fun in the wilderness. "I really enjoyed PBC because it was a time for us to let loose and bond," says Lisa. “I got to stargaze at night, and I saw so many more stars in the sky compared to when I’m home in the city. It was beautiful.”