September 21, 2018

Reorienting a Goal-Oriented Generation

Ivan Johnson / Dean of Student Life

Earlier this month, our 9th grade class embarked on their annual retreat to Kennedy Meadows and camped high in the Sierra Nevadas. Below, Dean of Student Life Ivan Johnson reflects on how this is a time for our students to unplug and let nature do the recharging.

For the last four years, a team of teachers and I have been working to restructure the 9th grade trip to create an experience that would foster student bonding, strengthen our advisory program, build community within the grade, and provide a space for students to explore—all away from social media and their cell phones. In addition, fellow teacher Victor Cohen and I have been working to design a program that helps connect our 9th graders to the social studies curriculum, which looks at early human civilizations.

During our trip, we separated  students into individual spaces as the stars came out and took an 11 mile hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, a path that has been traversed by humans for over 20,000 years. Each day, we met all together to build community and allow each student and adult to establish personal intentions for the upcoming school year.

I love teaching students the power of independence and play, and I believe those things happen best in the outdoors, free of cell reception. In a matter of seconds, our students were able to disconnect and explore a world without technology. Moments after getting off the bus they were free: no social media, no contact with parents and friends, aside from the people standing next to them. Immediately, different bonds started to form, new students and returning students started to interact in new ways, and groups that had previously been exclusive became inclusive.

What is not always immediate is the reorientation of a goal oriented generation. When you are outdoors for an extended period of time, you start to rely much more on your senses and experiences, rather than a calendar or a plan. It is that type of mindset, free of schedules, bells, and external expectations, where students begin to find their authentic selves and see beyond the goals and pressures they feel everyday. It is in natural space where we become reflective and open to seeing the world and ourselves differently, and our world is more desperate than ever for different answers and reflective people.