One morning this fall I was making my way to journalism class, I found a frenzy of freshmen, gathering and packing their things into large hiking packs. Soon I found that these students were part of the Quest program at P.R.H.S. I quickly snatched a camera and started snapping pictures of the group of students and their advisors, Ms. Lesley Herschlag and Mr. Patrick D’Amboise.

I figured that since I had no clue about this program, I would go to the advisors to get the scoop on this new and seemingly interesting program. They informed me that this expedition-based program is for a targeted group of ninth graders who work together on social skills, personal skills and outdoor skills. Herschlag said, “Really the learning takes place through the challenge of the outdoors. The real learning is about self: self-confidence, self-reliance, responsibility, consequences and leadership.” D’Amboise added, “Quest is one possible way to help students form a positive school culture.” This group of students meets for 80 minutes once a week; during these meetings they give each other support for skill building and expedition planning. The intention of this group is to go on three five-day expeditions this school year.

When the expeditions were mentioned, I asked D’Amboise and Herschlag to inform me about the first expedition that I saw the students prepping for. The hiking expedition took place on Goose Eye Mountain in the Mahoosuc mountain range near Newry. From the size of their packs, I could tell that the group had a lot in store for them. Mr. D’Amboise said that some of the tasks that students had to accomplish were challenging.

A few of these tasks were (surprise, surprise) carrying heavy backpacks, along with navigating accurately, personal comfort in the wilderness, making decisions about pace, timing and safety, among other things. The advisors informed me that the students genuinely had a lot of fun, and accomplished many things during the expedition. D’Amboise described the scenario like this: “Going on adventures to beautiful places, cookin’ meals, sleeping out together, sitting around a fire, telling jokes and laughing, jumping in rivers (and they were cold), as well as successfully making it to the mountain top.”

Before I explain the achievement of the Quest group making it to the top, I must describe the food and preparation. The food they brought was easy to carry, store and prepare. I saw items such as apples, English muffins and bagels. Two students were assigned to make the group dinner after they figured out how to safely use the cooking stove. With liberal use of the spice kit they created “great meals” such as: spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, Mexican beans and rice with salsa, and surprisingly a birthday cake made out of twizzlers, fig newtons and M&M’s. D’Amboise added “Garlic Helps!”

This expedition really helped the group work togethe and accomplish many things. The main thing, of course, was getting to the top of the mountain, but the process of reaching this goal helped the individuals learn some things of their own, such as wilderness survival, and responsibility. I was informed about an evening meeting that was led and participated in by the students.

There was a lot of ownership for responsibility, and it was also a great way for the students to interact in a progressive manner, also to show leadership as well as positive cooperation. When the group got back from the expedition, they immediately found that they needed to create norms to follow, so they say down, brainstormed and came up with these eight guidelines which are now written on an insulate pad, and will be taken with the group on the next expedition.

1) understand each other

2) help each other with tasks

3) honesty

4) think before you speak

5) ask for help, never give up

6) treat people the way you want to be treated

7) one person talks at a time

8) safety – physically and emotionally

Using these norms, D’Amboise says, “The group will keep working on learnin’ and growin’ in this alternative way.” Herschlag added, “I think it’s an honor to be part of Quest and I believe the students also feel a certain amount of pride being part of this team.” D’Amboise did, however, caution that there were some difficulties getting the group to work together and stay positive and focused.

Later, I had a chance to hang out with this interesting group while they were using their team-building skills to climb the rock wall, and I learned a lot by watching them work together. The group seemed to be very comfortable around each other, as well as respectful of their advisors. Herschlag and D’Amboise explained the proper way to climb and belay, and soon the group was all harnessed in and climbing.

The belayers were very supportive and encouraged their climbers to climb higher. I noticed that this group has a sense of unity between them. I didn’t notice one bad attitude, and they all seemed to be proud to be in Quest. Herschlag said that there is some sort of internal motivation to be in Quest, and they definitely seemed motivated. Helping each other, and pushing each other to take that extra stride in situations when that may not be totally comfortable. I found that Quest is a really neat program to get students to understand, help and enjoy each other.

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