Polytechnic School: Middle & Upper School Students Take to the Great Outdoors

Published : Monday, September 30, 2013 | 11:34 PM

The Outdoor Education program at Poly is an integral part of every Middle and Upper School student’s education. Beginning in sixth grade, students participate an annual trip, each with a different focus but also common lessons that build upon one another so that a basic foundation of outdoor experiences is attained. As an introduction to the Middle School Outdoor Education program, sixth-graders head off each September for a three-day trip in Big Bear. Set in an alpine environment, the trip focuses on community, group, and teamwork. Students participate in many activities and learn to work together to achieve common goals. The seventh grade trip, through the medium of backpacking and desert camping, focuses on the wilderness ethic of “leave no trace.” The eighth grade trip, a water-based expedition, requires students to work together as they paddle canoes, camp, and hike in a remote environment. In the Upper School, students have a choice of a variety of trips, including sailing and marine science in Catalina, hiking in Escalante National Monument in Utah, and sea kayaking at Santa Cruz Island. The program culminates with seniors journeying to the Kern River during their last week of school.

This year’s sixth-graders departed campus this past Wednesday equipped with their sleeping bags and enough energy to participate in a full range of activities. “The sixth grade trip is both a perfect beginning to the Outdoor Ed program, while also allowing the class a chance to bond,” reflected Pat Gray, Middle School dean of students. “During this trip, students engaged in team-building activities, night-hikes, s’mores by the fire, and karaoke. The weather was perfect all three days, and we can’t wait for Joshua Tree next year!” Students appreciated the opportunity to bond with their peers, as well as time for personal reflection: “My favorite part of the trip was when I got to go on the night hike,” shared sixth-grader Justin H. “You get to walk by yourself in the dark. It seems scary, but it is very fun. It’s just a time where you can think and be by yourself. The night hike really pushed me out of my comfort zone but I felt proud of myself.”

Middle School Director Jenn Tolbert, who joined the students on the second day of their trip, explained the importance of taking newly-minted Middle School students on this trip early in the school year: “Through team-building initiatives, one of our main goals of the trip is to help the students get to know one another and bond as a grade. I can say with confidence that this class has gone to the mountain and returned as the class of 2020.”

The Outdoor Education program in the Upper School provides opportunities for adventure and personal growth amidst the beauty of many locations throughout the southwestern United States. Next week, all ninth- through 11th-graders will participate in a variety of trips that physically challenge students of all ages in a manner that is appropriate for each individual age group. Students learn to appreciate the world and people around them, and the program provides a context for students and faculty to get to know each other in different settings and under different circumstances.

In preparation for one group’s trip to the Klamath River in Northern California this coming week, a group of juniors spent a recent Saturday morning in the Poly pool participating in a paddling clinic. Upper School faculty member Tina Cocumelli, who will accompany the students, explained that the purpose of the clinic is to teach students basic paddle commands and rescue techniques with instruction from long-time Poly trip guide Tom Moore of Sierra South. “This training earns these 88 juniors a bit of skill and confidence as they tackle the rapids of the beautiful Klamath River,” she said.

Hear more from Poly’s sixth-graders who shared their favorite experiences from their trip.

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