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Wednesday / May 24

Achieving Equity around the Campfire

Achieving Equity around the Campfire

On a cool October night, Mr. John and his staff called the students to take a seat around the campfire. The ingredients for s’mores were passed around as students reflected on the activities from the day.

Two months before the trip, Mr. John’s principal challenged her staff to think outside of the box about an issue/opportunity that the school had been presented with. Due to new housing developments that were completed over the summer, the school division decided to rezone. Mr. John’s school was not spared and the normally affluent student population suddenly found an influx of students who qualified for additional services and free/reduced lunches. Staff, families, and the surrounding community raised concerns and questions. There was a clear divide between the student population and no answers in sight.

Mr. John’s class was not spared either. Almost evenly split between returning and new students, he immediately saw that the class was not cohesive. While not contentious, the students were afraid to interact with each other. They wore clothes of different styles, experienced different lifestyles, went home to homes of different styles and sizes, and had opinions about each other before they even met.

Mr. John knew that in order to achieve equity in his room, he had to not only think outside of the box but blow it up altogether.

The first step in deciding what he was going to do was for Mr. John to meet with each family in their homes—a large commitment that required additional time after school. During these visits, each parent was gracious, understanding, and appreciative of Mr. John’s efforts and Mr. John recognized that each house he visited highlighted a different demographic, culture, and experience.

Upon completion of the visits, Mr. John reflected with his PLN about his experience. He stated that what became abundantly clear on his visits was one simple theme:

Take away the layers. The money, opinions, backgrounds, and any other difference you can think of. You remove it and you find a consensus in one area: these parents want the best for their students and for them to become productive members of this school. This basic desire trumps everything else.

This new understanding led to another awakening. If you peel away the layers from the students in the class, you will find that each student seeks to be understood and to learn.

Thus, the next challenge was to find a way to peel back these layers for his students, but what activity could achieve this goal? It had to be something that would get his students to see that, at their cores, they each seek to better their own lives and the lives of those around them.

After a day of trying to find the answer to this challenge, Mr. John decided to let it go for a few days and wait for the solution to come to him. Two days later, Mr. John sat at home and watched one of his favorite movies on TV. In the scene, a group of friends sat by the campfire and reflected on their life together.

Instantly, he knew that a camping trip was the fundamental activity that could take away the layers of his students.

The next day, Mr. John pitched his idea to his principal who had some initial concerns surrounding logistics. However, she saw the purpose of the trip and the passion that Mr. John embodied for it. For the next month, the class secured camping equipment, funding to reserve the campsite, and conducted teambuilding activities. As the class prepared, Mr. John noticed that the students became more cohesive but there was still a clear divide between them.

On the day of the camping trip, the students began by traveling to a local ropes course. It was there that Mr. John began to see the layers being peeled away.

With words of encouragement, students in the class encouraged each other to conquer their fears and complete the obstacles and a legitimate desire to learn more about each other occurred. The students then traveled to the campsite and found firewood to use later in the day. The remainder of the day included trust walks, scavenger hunts, and group sessions where students talked about their lives and desires.

By the time the campfire was set and the students were sitting around it, Mr. John saw the layers peeled back and the students seeing each other for who they really were. At least for the night, the external influences that often resonate the most with students were nowhere to be found.

On that cool October night, Mr. John and his staff called the students to take a seat around the campfire. Mr. John talked to his class about why he planned the trip. He talked about his visits to their homes, his concerns about the different backgrounds, and his mission to have them see each other for who they really were. Then the students talked about the trip, what they had learned about from this experience, and how they had a new appreciation for their peers.

The camping trip served its purpose. It brought his students together. By working together, they learned more about each other and began a new collective effort towards bettering themselves.

That was what Mr. John signed up for when he became a life-changer.

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Adam Brown is a K-12 Principal in Virginia. Adam works with students who present challenging behaviors that require additional supports and interventions. He was recently selected into the 2016 ASCD class of Emerging Leaders and Influence Leaders and was recognized as a 2014 AERA Emerging Scholar. Adam provides professional development on effective programming measures that educators can take to educate our most challenging students.

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  • The power of experiential learning and the importance of developing a sense of community cannot be overstated.

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