A Parent’s Perspective

While we do not allow parents to “tag along” or serve as general chaperones on experiential education trips with their children, on occasion a student has a serious medical condition and the parent is asked to help lead a trip. Below is a letter from an Upper School parent who recently spent two weeks traveling with the seventh and eighth grade class on their spring immersion trip through Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

“Dear Mountain School,

I wanted to submit my final thoughts and reflections, for your records, on the South Trip that I was privileged enough to attend.

First, I want to thank you for taking the historically unorthodox measure of inviting a parent on as a “Leader” for the experiential education component of your curriculum.   I know that you do not normally advocate for parents on field trips, but now that I have seen the inner working of this program…I am fully awed and feel enlightened to have seen, first hand, the magic that occurred within this curriculum!

I also feel grateful for your willingness to accommodate the special medical needs of my student in order to allow her to be able to experience this life-changing journey with her peers in a way that felt comfortable in regards to the Diabetes care.  Overall, this year we have been very pleased with the silent yet compassionate “all-eyes-on” approach the Diabetes management that has helped our daughter stay safe at school.   Ultimately, this year has been very empowering for her on so many levels.

After witnessing first hand the learning and care that ensued on the South trip, I returned with the 7th and 8th-grade class ultimately impressed by the following-through of the Mountain School mission on the road.  The experiential part of the student’s education proved to be profound and transnational for the students…and me.  I was able to get a real glimpse of the richness and magic that the outside-of-the-classroom-walls approach had on the students in the end.

The teachers and their care for the students and their learning experience were exemplary.  First, the stamina and involvement by the teaching staff were beyond full time.  They gave of themselves in a completely selfless way with a devoted dedication to the students. The teachers were committed to the student’s learning and positive group experience. Andy, Jacqui, and Paul were literally working around the clock for the students putting the kids and the curriculum in front of all else.   Once again, Andy’s wealth of knowledge and expertise on the subject matter was deep, and the teachers made a lesson out of every experience we had as we went.  The kids asked for math problems to solve in the van and at restaurants that were pertinent to their travel.  That love of math and learning, I had never seen before. All students were involved and motivated to solve.  Jacqui even made a card game about civil rights trivia that they played in the van as we drove.

On another note, it was amazing and refreshing to be surrounded by teenagers WHO WERE NOT ON THEIR PHONES during this whole journey. It really challenged them to be present and interact, and I do feel this is rare. Being device-less is also a valuable social skill to foster, which the Mountain School does nobly.

I witnessed the staff care for the student as if they were family, and the attentiveness to safety, nutrition, resting, reflecting, and discipline, was fantastic.   Ultimately, the teachers demanded respect on all levels from their students.  I was overjoyed to see that compassion was expected and taught.  This came through when we arrived at a hotel at midnight in Nashville that did not feel good and safe.  We could have chanced it and spent a few hours of sleeping in a sketchy motel, but instead, the call was made to keep it safe, reorganize and scramble at midnight after a long day, to make sure the students were best taken care of.    I will never forget Andy saying,  “You are my flock, and we need to make decisions that are best for you (students) to keep you happy and healthy!” As a parent witness, this validated the deep commitment the teachers have for the best interest of their students.  That is when I saw an authentic love and deep care for the students and felt confident that they were in very capable hands.

I also got to get an inside glimpse of the family dynamic among the 7th and 8th graders who appreciated each other and clearly accepted and celebrated each individual for each of their unique personalities that made up their group.  This comradery, I feel, is rare at this age, and what I saw was tender, loving and support in a way that each individual student was able to shine in their own light. Any sub-par behavior or action was quickly addressed and all negativity and unacceptable behavior were squashed to make sure everyone felt included as part of the group.  Once again, I was impressed.

I saw the impact of the experiential learning that took place and it was life changing.  An 8th-grade boy said, after given time to journal and process, “I am embarrassed to be related by color to people who would treat other people this way.” This showed me that the curriculum and subject matter was hitting hard to the core.  I saw our 8th-grade girls drawn to tears after an exhibit where they learned that modern day slavery still takes place today.  This information completely shook their worldview.   I would have to say, the trip was transformational for each student, and myself included.  Thank you for allowing me to see “backstage” on one of the infamous experiential education trips that are integral to the culture of the Mountain School.

All I have is praise.”

-Joanna Kanow