As last year drew to a close, the 7th graders spent a lot of time talking about how they wanted this year to go. Their highest priority was on making new students feel both welcome to and included in the school right from the start. They had zillions of ideas, including extra time in Orientation and a number of changes to the Middle School Overnight bonding trip designed to facilitate making as many connections as possible. We were able to implement most of these ideas and are now nearing the end of our first week together. How are things going?

Rewind to Tuesday night in Gibson Lodge in Camp Becket. After a delicious dinner of Mexican Lasagne, our wonderful counselors Jordan and Allison led a number of games to help everyone get to know each other better. In one, we all took off one shoe and stood next to it in a big circle. Allison removed her shoe from the circle, and stood in the center. She called out, “I’m Allison. The wind is blowing for everyone who has siblings.” Everyone with siblings left their shoe behind and scrambled to stand by another shoe while the only children watched. The one person who was left without a shoe ran to the center of the circle, introduced herself, and came up with another “The wind is blowing…” statement. The room was filled with laughter and the occasional scream during frantic races to the last shoe. Later, we paired off and learned four facts about each other and then introduced our partners to the group. At the end, everyone agreed we had all learned something new about people, even people we knew well. In several cases, this involved being able to do odd things with ears, eyes, eyebrows and/or tongues. The talents of the middle schoolers are indeed many and varied!

After the last game, we walked to the campfire area (with a pause to enjoy looking up at the stars from the soccer field) only to find… no fire, and worse, no ingredients for s’mores. Oblivious to this unexpected turn of events, trusting things would work out, or both, the students began to sing camp songs, taking turns taking the lead. While Jordan and Allison worked quickly to get a blazing fire going, students discovered the stage and turned the evening into a combination sing-along and impromptu talent show. Caught up in the moment, no one broke the flow of the show when the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate finally arrived – the first time ever on a middle school overnight when we weren’t instantly swamped by hungry girls. Near 10:30, one of the girls led the group in singing Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” (which happened to have been performed by last year’s middle school rock band), and by the end of the song a quiet, mellow, peaceful atmosphere had fallen and we all sat quietly for a moment before Laura announced it was time to go back to the lodge.

Last year’s students had asked if they could stay in one big building instead of cabins this year, and so, with the camp’s blessing, nearly all the students dragged their mattresses out of dorm rooms and into the big central room of the lodge; two girls preferred to remain in a dorm room together. Although there were inevitably smatterings of giggles for a little while past bedtime, all in all everyone was tired enough that they managed to get a good night’s sleep.

The following day began with the high ropes course where, depending on their choices, students were challenged either to find a way to climb up various elements, or to walk across a tightrope or telephone pole 40 feet off the ground. Adrenaline flowed despite the knowledge that you were hooked safely in to your harness and friends were belaying you and cheering you on. After lunch, the girls played “Zingers” in which teams worked to earn points at different stations through accomplishing such tasks as having everyone simultaneously jump rope, model clay into identifiable animals, arrange pre-selected letters into as many five-letter words as possible, pass a coffee can filled with tennis balls from feet to feet, build the highest free-standing structure possible out of Duplos, or (the loudest and most photogenic) run between two cones using as many themes (such as “penguins!”) as possible. While the morning was a chance to reach within yourself, supported by your peers, to see what you could accomplish, the afternoon was more about meeting the challenge of working together to solve problems in a positive atmosphere.

At the end of the trip, Jordan and Allison asked the students to share highlights of the Overnight, and the first answer definitely set the theme: “My favorite part was when I did the double ladder with my friend and we made it to the top.” The returning students said they had even more fun than last year, and the new students seemed equally happy.

Both Jordan and Allison were impressed with the girls’ attentiveness to what they were doing and to each other, and went out of their way to tell me so. Especially considering we had been all together for less than 24 hours when we left for Camp Becket, the middle schoolers definitely look happy together, and many of the new students are already acting as though they’ve always gone to school here. Certainly there have been, and will continue to be, bumps in the road from time to time. But with the initial bonds we’ve formed, and the deeper bonds yet to come, we will continue to search out ways to reach within ourselves and reach out to others in scaling new heights. It does indeed promise to be an excellent year.