Overcoming challenges can lead to greater compassion and agency. Agency has many definitions. When we say students have agency, we are utilizing this noun to describe a person through which power is exerted or an end is achieved (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary). I witnessed students utilizing their agency to summit Mt. Sopris last week, and it made me think: Students are overcoming challenges ALL THE TIME, big and small, each and every day, and quite frequently with the support of their peers.
On our hike up Mt. Sopris, I witnessed CCS 7th graders supporting one another in many ways: providing encouragement, sharing struggles, taking turns carrying backpacks, waiting for one another, and keeping tabs on one another’s health and safety. One student made sure a peer had his inhaler handy, just in case, on the steep switchbacks. Another student sympathized with her friend while climbing the rocky, staircase up to the false summit. And, several students shared hiking poles to descend the talus slope safely. Over and over, I heard students saying to each other, “We can do this!”
The summit hike provided a perfect opportunity for students to exhibit both individual and collective agency and compassion. Whether it was waiting for the group, traversing an exposed ridgeline, or staying adequately hydrated, each student had their own challenge to overcome. And they did so! Here are three reasons why: 1) each student was aware of their own and their peers’ well-being, as well as their surroundings, 2) each student engaged in the minute-by-minute details required to summit the peak, and 3) each student focused on achieving a common goal.
After the hike, as I was snuggled up cozily in my tent listening to the girls in their tents share stories and giggle, I thought about how lifelong learning develops from experiences like ascending Mt. Sopris, especially when connections are made between outdoor education trips and the classroom. We must all remember that students are overcoming challenges ALL THE TIME, big and small, each and every day, and quite frequently with the support of their peers.
Our 7th graders will continue to face challenges. To overcome these challenges, I hope they attend to their own and each other’s well-being, as well as their surroundings, engage in the minute-by-minute details required to overcome challenges, both big and small, academic and non-academic, and recognize the power they possess when they work collectively toward a common goal. I know the hike up Mt. Sopris is emblazoned in their memories. I hope the hike is memorable, in part, because our students recognize that overcoming challenges can lead to greater compassion and agency.