Yesterday Conserve School students headed out on solo camp-outs, an opportunity for all students to build their confidence and their comfort level in the outdoors along with their camping skills. Following a detailed protocol supervised by Conserve School Director of Outdoor Programs Cathy Palmer, students and staff members hiked out to several base camps set up on Conserve’s 1200 acres. From there, each student headed to their own personal camping spot. Campsites are spread out enough to give students the sense of being alone in the woods. At the same time, staff members camp near enough to students to be close at hand should anyone need assistance.
Cold weather is often one of the more difficult parts of the overnight solo experience, and last night was no exception, with temperatures dipping down to around freezing. Students were equipped with winter camping gear, warm clothes that had been checked over by staff members to ensure that everyone would be reasonably comfortable, and hand and foot warmers, just in case. The morning fog made for a beautiful and quiet sunrise. Supervising staff members walked the campus trails early, checking on students’ “mailboxes” — small waterproof envelopes with notepaper and pencils inside — and finding cheerful notes, with many students indicating that they would like to stay out for another night. Solos are planned so that students can choose to stay out on their own for one night or two. Those students who choose to come in for the second night pitch their tents next to leaders at the base camp. Everyone will return to the residence houses on Friday morning.
For almost all students, this experience is their first night alone in the woods. Most find it challenging and battle a certain amount of anxiety, between the darkness, the animal sounds, and the strangeness of being alone, which is especially unfamiliar to students in this day and age, when most young people are connected to one another moment by moment through social media. Conserve School staff members help students prepare for solos gradually, over several weeks, through a variety of activities that allow them to practice outdoor skills and to talk through strategies for dealing with the fearful or lonely feelings that many of them will experience at least fleetingly. At the end of the solos, student groups come together for a meal and a debriefing, during which each individual describes their own unique experience. Students often discuss their fears openly, along with the new sense of confidence and self-reliance that comes from seeing a challenging situation through.
In the accompanying photos, you can see some of our students setting out on solos yesterday: leaving the Lowenstine Academic Building with their group, posing for photos at the group campsite, heading out to individual campsites loaded with gear, and then standing next to or peeking out of their tents, saying goodbye to their leaders as their solos begin. Stay tuned — we will post more solos photos as they become available.
Mary Anna Thornton
Assistant Head of School