Each year a cross cultural experience happens that on paper sounds silly. Kids from Maine meeting kids from New jersey, why? What could they possibly have in common? On the surface sure, you could say the beach, blueberries, and another word that starts with a b, but really how are they similar? If you were to look a bit closer, the one thing that draws them together, as well as spurs this confluence in the first place, is Trekkers.
Starting 25 years ago, Trekkers is a six year youth based program that connects young people with adults that care. Within the program relationships are built, experiences are had, and memories are made which help the participants grow into thriving, resilient, responsible young adults. At its core, it is a program that is not a sprint but a marathon in youth development. A program that is relational, experiential, and strength based, from this model, Urban Trekkers was born.
What stemmed from Urban Trekkers inception was an idea of connection. 2 times of a year, both Trekker sights would have the opportunity to visit one another in their home states and show them what life was like in their own backyard. This year was nothing different. Traveling from over 8 hours away, as the Maine Trekkers went from From Lobster Rolls to Philly Cheesesteaks and coastal coves to corner stores, they were welcomed into Camden with open arms.Carrying their bags full of gear and stomachs full of butterflies into our building, these are some of the thoughts that came from our students mouths.
What if they don’t like me?
I don’t know them!
And do i have to share my snacks?
These first day of school feelings of awkwardness and uncomfortablility of being around people you don’t know, is not only common but expected in the beginning. But as time would pass, games were played, and walls were broken down as conversations began to flow, the other expected outcome occurred as well. People began to have fun. From strangers to best friends, students were able to make bonds with each other in 2 days that would only become stronger over time and possibly last a lifetime.
The first of many, this trip was a great experience that showed both sets of students that relationships were something that can start off as a seed. The continued visits back in forth over the years a part of the watering process. And in time, these friendships can grow and blossom into so much more.
“I never thought I would be able to have fun with kids my age doing things like this.” This was shared during a moment of reflection on the first night of our 11th grade trip to Washington DC. Each and every night of a Trekker Trip, we make it a practice to gather around in a circle, known as a circle up, where we intentionally slow down and talk to one another. Similar to a campfire, a circle up creates a brave space to be vulnerable with one another, as we talk about the things on our hearts. Just as important as it is sharing one's thoughts and feelings of their day, a circle up also welcomes everyone the opportunity to listen.
The 11th grade trip to Washington DC could be described in many different ways. Some kids would say too long. Some kids would say too short. Some staff would say not enough sleep. But what I believe all would say, was needed. This group of 12 adolescents were a class that had gone on one trip before in 2019 and would not go on a trip again until 2022. Bonded by Covid, this DC trip was their chance to connect with one another without screens, without zoom links, and without others to infere.
During the trip the 11th graders were able to learn many things.
For some they learned about americas toiled but rich history at the African American history Museum
For others they learned about the spark of an idea, and the inception of a nation at the US capitol
For a few they learned about the pain of a people at the Holocaust museum
For all, they learned about themselves and what it means to slow down and spend time with friends.
In the end, this trip was a opportunity for the kids to be kids. To step away and take a break from everything that life throws at them. The DC trip every year cannot be explained. Though the itinerary may remain the same year after year, the impact that it has on the students is never the same.
A young but wise philospher once said. “Life is a beach and im just playing in the sand”. This statement reminds us to enjoy life, embrace our surroundings, and live in the moment. Now though the author of this quote is Lil Wayne, the words he expressed do not lose their value as that was exactly what was experienced during the 9th Grade Trekker Trip to Assateauge Island.
Beyond NSO( New student Orientation) which happens in the beginning of the semester, the Assateague Island trip at Urban Promise Academy is a students first experience within the Urban Trekker program. Before any trek, we do a trip debrief with the students. Filling them on any key details about the trip and allowing them time and a space to express any concerns they may have. Concerns of theirs ranged from:
“Wait a second…3 days without my phone?! How do you expect me to live!!” To
“Now when you say wild horses….how big are we talking here? Do they bite? How well are they fed? How do you expect me to live!!”
On both sides of the spectrum, their fears were valid. Coming out of Covid, where being socially distanced but digitially connected was the norm, not having access to the outside world was an uneasy and uncomfotable feeling for them. For many people, including myself, the idea of disconnection can be a scary thing. What makes Urban Trekkers so special, as they were soon to find out, is that we do not leave them disconnected but take them on a experience where they can connect with the environment, one other, and in the very moments that they find themselves in.
As they would slowly dip their toe into what being an Urban Trekker was all about, what better place to get their feet wet than in the waters of Assateauge Island. Known for their scenic views and wild horses, the students were excited to see the scenic views….not so much the wild horses. Evidently late night vistis from a herd of hungry ponies was not their idea of a good time. What was a good time for them though, was biking, canoeing, hiking, and nightime campfires with their friends.
The highlight of the trip would be the sunrise devotions we were able to do each and every day. As we stared out at the ocean, as the sun made its way over the horizon, we each umprompted stopped talking and stood in silence as we knew we were watching something magical happen. This would be followed by a devotion where we talked about creation, how everything we saw before us was made by God, and how it was good.
The Urban Trekker experience is a 4 year program where the world is our classroom. We travel to places beyond students' everyday lives, to sites where learning comes alive and students have room to grow. As a first time Trekker myself, Assateague Island was a great introduction to the world of experiential learning. Going outside your comfort zone is not something easy to do, but as a young and wise philosopher once said ,” I don’t need it to be easy. I just want it to be worth it.”
And yes, that person was also Lil Wayne.