Girls of Summer 2010
Imagine the notion of trekking through our beautiful White Mountains with teenage girls ranging from fifth through twelfth grade. The conversation is stimulating and unending from the time we tie up our hiking boots until parents pick their girls up… It’s likely the girls are still talking away—seemingly tireless until they crash into their beds at night.
Our Girls of Summer program began four summers ago when our school district, SAU 68, asked for teachers to submit enrichment ideas for students K-12. Without any research, we believed intuitively that an outdoor challenge experience for girls that combined creative writing and reading would help to build young adolescents’ sense of confidence and self esteem; two qualities many of our young people struggle to develop, yet are necessary for good decision making.
Each year is a little different depending on the group of girls who commit to the summer hiking dates. First only day hikers attempting local hikes such as Indian Head and Georgiana Falls, our girls pushed for an overnight experience which evolved this year into a two night stay on Mt. Washington. Other overnights in previous years included Liberty Springs tent site on Franconia Ridge, and Kinsman Pond tent site on Kinsman Ridge. These challenging outdoor experiences have led to many first-time experiences for our girls, including practicing outdoor survival skills and stewardship, bagging a 4,000 footer, and summiting Mt. Washington.
Each summer our reading selections and writing prompts are inspired by a chosen theme. One summer our themed reading focused on Rachel Carson, a highly respected female ecologist. We also helped local author, Rebecca Brown, make revisions to her new historic fiction novel based on a young female hiker named Annie Peck Smith. Rebecca was willing to let us post her draft on our teacher webpages with specific questions she wanted the girls to consider about her audience and character development. Thus began our summer of blogging comments to an “authentic” writer, which gave very credible substance to our girls’ confidence level. They were helping a real writer to revise her draft!
Another year we read a series of survival literature including Not Without Peril. The girls astutely pointed out to us this book was not about survival at all, but rather about all of the people who have been lost while out on our Presidential Range. The book took on a whole new meaning this summer as we hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine trail bound for the summit of Mt. Washington. The fog rolled in and we could only see a few feet in front of us making the cairns even more important for us to follow. When the girls realized this was how so many people lost their way in Not Without Peril — or due to poor visibility with rain or snow—they acquired an entire new respect for our White Mountains. Unfortunately, we could not adequately prepare them for the disappointment they would feel upon reaching the top to find all of the tourists who had simply driven their cars up the auto road. We felt particularly proud when the overall sentiment was, “Why would you want to drive, when you could feel so strong after tackling this monster of a mountain on foot?”
What perhaps has been most rewarding to us as teachers and fellow hikers is the relationships which develop in this kind of multi-age experience. To watch a senior and a sixth grader chat together in the woods about a book or a writing prompt they’ve shared and to see that friendship carry over into the school year is incredibly exciting. Furthermore, when we hear about kids today being completely “plugged in” to their IPods and cell phones, communicating primarily through text messaging and facebook, it’s refreshing and renewing to observe them talking and sharing and being regular kids in the woods, appreciating the natural beauty and power of their back yards.
Their writing experiences are often very introspective, reflective and creative, and they are given many opportunities for an authentic audience consisting of their peers. There isn’t nearly enough time for these opportunities in the classroom when there is so much content to cover and individual learning needs to meet.
This is the first year we actually published an anthology, which we titled Switchback: a Collection of Writing and Memories allowing the girls to see their names, photos and writing in print—a very big deal for these Girls of Summer. Our group this year included Marissa Haase, Marcy Regalado, Kelsey O’Rourke, Eunice Bartlett, Pearce Bourassa, Chloe Loukes and Katie Van Houten.
Next year, we will tackle Greg Mortenson’s books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, both non-fiction titles that illustrate how his love of hiking evolved into building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Additionally, we will work on a multi-genre piece in the hopes of creating another anthology of student writing. We hope to return to the woods each year to share our passion for the outdoors, good books, and creative writing with young women in our community.
Heather Krill is a high school English teacher at Lin-Wood who completed her Master’s in Education as a K-12 Reading specialist in 2003.
Kelly Nelson is a high school history teacher at Lin-Wood expected to finish her Master’s in Education in the spring of 2011.
Rebecca Steeves is a middle school science teacher at Lin-Wood who is also a former forest ranger.