This week Conserve School students headed out for solo camp-outs, an opportunity for all students to build their confidence and their comfort level in the outdoors along with their camping skills. Following a detailed protocol, developed by Conserve School staff under the direction of Director of Outdoor Programs Cathy Palmer, students and staff members hiked out to several base camps set up on Conserve School's 1200 acre Lowenwood campus. From there, each student headed to their own personal camping spot. Campsites are spread out enough to give students the sense of being alone in the woods. At the same time, staff members camp near enough to students to be close at hand should anyone need assistance.
Cold weather is often one of the more difficult parts of the overnight solo experience. This years late snows made it even more so. Students set up in the snow and overnight temperatures dipped down below freezing. Students were equipped with winter camping gear, warm clothes that had been checked over by staff members to ensure that everyone would be reasonably comfortable. Despite a forecast for rain and snow, the morning skies were clear with a beautiful and quiet sunrise. Supervising staff members walked the campus trails early, checking on students' "mailboxes" — small waterproof envelopes with notepaper and pencils inside.
For almost all students, this experience is their first night alone in the woods. Most find it challenging and battle a certain amount of anxiety, between the darkness, the animal sounds, and the strangeness of being alone, which is especially unfamiliar to students in this day and age, when most young people are connected to one another moment by moment through social media. Conserve School staff members help students prepare for solos gradually, over several weeks, through a variety of activities that allow them to practice outdoor skills and to talk through strategies for dealing with the fearful or lonely feelings that many of them will experience at least fleetingly. At the end of the solos, student groups come together for a meal and a debriefing, during which each individual describes their own unique experience. Students often discuss their fears openly, along with the new sense of confidence and self-reliance that comes from seeing a challenging situation through.
Solos are one way in which Conserve School addresses its fourth learning goal, "Demonstrates the skills necessary to feel comfortable and confident in the outdoors, both alone and with others."
A student solo camping site on Big Donahue Lake
Tim and Paul's staff supervision site
Students heading out to their solo sites
Abby happy and hiking back in after her solo camping experience