To go on an UrbanTrekkers trip usually implies going camping, hiking, paddling, or some other form of outdoor enjoyment. You might imagine yourself on a beach, a mountainside, or even down a rushing river. However some of our treks leave you in an entirely different scene: a crowded city made of marbles, pillars, towering monuments. It was amongst these landmarks that we trekked with our 11th grade class on our Washington DC trip this year.
It is easy to feel dwarfed by size and grandeur in Washington DC. One of the very first monuments that we walked past was the Washington Monument, a 555-foot-tall obelisk-like structure. This monument’s construction spanned almost 40 years of American history in its construction alone.
It was 26 years after the spire was built that another location that our students visited was beginning its own construction. It was built across the large rectangular Reflecting Pool from the Washington Monument and was dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial gives the aura of an ancient temple with a height of 99 feet supported by giant pillars of marble. Inside the tall roof of the building there sits white marble Abraham Lincoln. If this stone statue were ever to move, it would stand 28 feet tall at full height, but for now it sits looking out over the reflecting pool and to the east. In its many years of sitting, the stone-faced Lincoln would have seen a crowd of people gather just in front of his doorstep. It might have sat in silent questioning as it saw a solitary figure climb the steps and turn to face the thousands and speak about a dream he had for the American people and its unity. This was August 28, 1963 and that man was Martin Luther King Jr.
Our students stood upon that very spot where Martin Luther King stood as he made that speech, seeing the vast expanse of the city that he must have seen 58 years ago. The spot is marked by a simple engraving in the stone, an easily missed text for such a significant moment of American history. The text simply says:
I Have A Dream
Martin Luther King Jr.
The March on Washington
For Jobs and Freedom
King is an icon to many people in the United States and this is no more true than in Camden County, NJ. Many of the students see his face on street art, picture frames, statues, and elsewhere. It was in Camden that Martin Luther King Jr. lived during his early years (1949-1951) whilst in seminary. It was in Camden County that he had his first sit-in in 1951. Some who live in Camden today might wonder what differences there were between Camden of King and Camden today.
One student stopped and knelt down on the spot Dr. King stood, where he shared the words “I Have A Dream”. My student looked up and said, “Dr. King’s hopes are still a dream, the work is not finished.” So as we look to the end of this year and the start of a new one, let us carry the words of this student: “The work is not finished.”
“When I first came on this trip, I didn’t think I would like it. But now that I’m here, I’m glad I came.” I heard this profound sentence from a student while we were standing looking out across the dunes of Assateague Island. This response was not an unusual summation for the trip and the kids that went on it. Many of the students, 9th graders from UrbanPromise Academy, had never been camping before. Most hadn’t been this far from home and none had been to Assateague Island before.
Assateague Island, one of a long string of barrier islands that stretches from Maine all the way down to Texas, is a unique place. Found on the Delmarva Peninsula, the island is under the protection of three separate parks and reserves, each managed by a separate organisation. This protects many forms of wildlife that rely on its forests, beaches, and marshes for their resources. These habitats are widely different and require special methods to survive in each. A crab from the beach would have a hard time surviving in the tree and bush covered depths of the maritime forest.
Some of the students sympathized with this difference in adaptation as they woke to the feeling of sand beneath their tents and wind-blown dunes. It’s a daunting task to set up a tent when you’ve had the comfort of a bed and house. There are poles, stakes, bags (which usually end up blowing away if you aren’t paying attention), and your own two hands to make sense of it all. As any Trekker knows, the outside can be full of surprises. On our trip some horses ate a staff’s granola bar. We also had an extremely windy day, which while great for flying kites and enjoying the breeze, did have us double-check our tent’s stakes a few times. Life in the outdoors is not an easily predictable process.
But perhaps that is exactly what students are adapted to. Many students live in environments where their life is a changing thing, lifestyles that can turn on a dime or be turned into something entirely different. In all of this, UrbanTrekkers has strived to show that even in the hard moments and after a long day, you can still sit around a campfire at the end, sharing stories, insights, and some well-roasted marshmallows.
By Noilda Sousa - Environmental Education Program Director
The author and theologian C.S. Lewis had written in his famous book Mere Christianity that “Reality is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.” This could not have been any truer than in the present year of 2020. Regardless of which country, political party, or age you are in this year seems to have found you with a change that you weren’t expecting.
The effects could be felt by us keenly in the UrbanTrekkers program. At UrbanTrekkers, many of our greatest programs involve overnight trips with our students to amazing natural places across the Northeast and beyond. These trips had to be adapted into a very new thing this school year to fit into the confines of health regulations and our own ability to transport students safely in this time.
These new trips we referred to as Trekker Mornings. Each week each grade would have a morning dedicated to an outdoor experience nearby. Beginning with paddling in BoatWorks-made canoes and ending with hiking and biking in local parks, the mornings had a wide range of topics and activities. The consistency of the trips allowed for a massive amount of genuine connections between staff, volunteers, and students. The short distance to the trip locations also allowed for a flexibility that would have been difficult to manage on a longer expedition. These small but potent advantages allowed for experiences that built up both the students and our Trekker team.
One October morning comes to mind this fall to illustrate this point. We had planned to take our senior class for a bike ride around Cooper River Park, a local park with many great paths for the amateur and experienced biker. Unfortunately, the trails were quite wet this particular morning due to some rain that had been falling steadily through much of the night, morning, and showed no signs of stopping. Some of our students seemed certain we were going to cancel our morning activities. We surprised them with a choice: we could continue with our scheduled programming and go for a bike ride, or we could do something unplanned and go for a nature walk in a park that many of us had never been to before. A vote was held and the hike was chosen. So, after a short drive and some wardrobe changes to include waterproof boots, ponchos and extra layers we set out in the relative wilds of Hopkins Pond. The rain had continued to hold up in a strong and thorough fall all through the hike. However, no one complained of the hike, some even were jumping through puddles with glee in their boots! As we returned to the vehicles at the end of a half-mile hike, soaked through and through, we congratulated the students on their grit and upbeat nature. We on the Trekker decided to reward this optimism with some warm drinks on the way back to school.
This memory stands out to me as a testament to both the unpredictable nature of the world, but also the resilience of our team and students. We don’t know what the rest of the season may hold for the world or our state, but we are working to be ready for it. We are preparing a number of programs: some tried, some different, and prepared for the unexpected. We are thankful to those that support us through this season with its twists and turns. We look forward to sharing more of this new season and its stories with you soon. As C.S. Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”