Eagle Rock’s 66th trimester (ER 66) brought us 10 fresh-off-the-bus students and a return to the wilderness for our New Student Wilderness Orientation Course. The program remains among the staples of the Eagle Rock School student experience and, in fact, we have been conducting these courses since the school’s founding in the early-1990s.
Three times a year, we gear up and head out to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, or the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado for a 24-day backpacking course. The trips also include rock climbing, rappelling and a three-day solo experience.
This orientation program places students in unique situations, during which they have the opportunity to gain valuable learning experiences. This learning is made possible by placing students in a new, unfamiliar setting (wilderness) where they must rely on themselves and each other to succeed, and where the usual distractions of adolescent life — smartphones, TV, fast food, drugs and alcohol, cars, malls, cosmetics and hair products — are absent.
Underlying this novel setting and providing the basis for change is a foundation of trust and the student’s perception of the wilderness as a setting riddled with danger and risk. Overcoming the unique problems that a wilderness trip typically presents requires a cooperative effort among all group members.
Putting together the “wilderness puzzle” of problems leads to feelings of accomplishment, enhanced self awareness and self control, as well as a feeling of personal responsibility for self, others and the natural environment. In the end, the skills that students develop on the course will help them successfully contribute to the Eagle Rock community and ultimately to society as a whole.
Courses are 24 days in length due to the fact that it usually takes an individual about three to four weeks to develop a habit or change a behavior. We think 21 days is the minimum amount of time we can spend in the field to effect positive changes. Most students don’t become aware of, or begin working on, changing behaviors until five to eight days into the course, so the task for us is to have students continue the work they started on the wilderness trip back on campus.