As with any good class teachers most often begin class with a series of activities that can help facilitate the group adopting a safe space to learn. These activities generally consist of the following elements: Name games, team building exercises, class “rules” and expectations/syllabus review.
As I tell all of my students, I alone cannot facilitate a safe space. That would be like creating a square with only one side. Everyone has to help create the borders of the space so that the space inside can be safe for everyone. The Community Adventure Program (CAP) also has an element that most classes don’t have available, and that is the overnight camping trips. New Vista High School’s (NVHS) overnights are backpacking trips (differentiated from other overnight trips that Cottonwood Institute runs). Our first overnight was one of the elements that helped seal our safe space. These elements can be the ingredients in a “secret sauce” that creates magic within a group of people. Sometimes, even if the ingredients are all there, the students don’t drink the sauce, and the space remains unsafe.
The students of CAP 48 (the 48th quarter that CAP has been taught at NVHS), not only drank the sauce, they guzzled it -to quote one of the students in our class. They chose to jump in with both feet and participate fully in all of the exercises, class contract discussions and the first overnight. They were on their learning edge, allowing themselves to be vulnerable in places where they identified as needing to grow. In addition to taking care of one another, they were encouraging and stood up for one another. They chose to enter into relationships with each other instead of merely being classmates, co-existing in the same space.
When we got to the first overnight, they put all of these actions into practice even more than in the classroom. They slept outside even when they have trouble sleeping and need 10 or more hours of sleep per night to function. Each person made sure that their fellow classmates felt supported when on a steep field during one of our hikes, reaching out their hands as spotters. They took turns working on a service project in the hot sun encouraging each other to take breaks and taking over the work so someone could sit in the shade and take a drink of water. And, they got closer to each other by asking deep questions and answering them around a campfire so that they could get to know each other beneath the surface.
Writing this at the end of the class, I can look back on all of these ingredients and say with confidence that this is one of the most caring, conscientious classes I’ve taught in my 18 years of working with teens. They were a group of people who were not friends before this class, and through their willingness to gulp the sauce, created magic.
A big thank you to Sylvan Dale Ranch for their partnership!
Written by CAP instructor Amy Atkins
See more photos from the trip here!