Trail Magic

For my father’s 75th birthday a couple of years ago, my husband and four friends about our age joined him in hiking the “100 Mile Wilderness,” which is actually the top 120 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  They planned it for a couple of years, mapping out their meals, miles and carefully measured weights of their packs.  On the Friday before Labor Day, they left Atlanta to begin their ten day adventure.

My dad had always loved hiking and being outdoors, taking his own English students from McCallie and Westminster out on trails to read such poetry as Frost’s “Swinging from Birches” in places where they could actually try what the poem described. There is something about nature that restores our humanity in the midst of a world that often demands we operate more like machines, which is why the trail often sends hikers home more alive than when they began.  While the unaccosted beauty of nature does so much to heal one’s soul from the constant barrage of daily demands and responsibilities, the isolation from people for my extroverted dad in his early 20’s prematurely ended his first attempt at completing a solo hike of the entire AT.  So, it was this mission of completing what he’d set out to do so long ago, but this time with a “band of brothers,” that compelled them to go.

One of many special things about the Appalachian Trail are the traditions of the trail, such as hikers abandoning their real names and going instead by nick names, provided by others in the group, by which they are known up and down the trail.  There are also certain accepted mantras, like “hike your own hike,” which gives each explorer permission to accomplish what he or she needs from the trail rather than what his or her companions have come there to achieve.  “Trail Magic” is the AT’s version of “paying it forward.”  When you have extra cinnamon rolls to share with other groups at one of your stops, they also may share extra provisions on a following day with another group.  Or, providing piggy back rides for small hikers over deeper streams may inspire similar labor to be shared further along.

For my birthday this year, my husband (with the help of my three children, parents and sister), created a box labeled “Trail Magic” for my school year.  Inside this truly magical box are 180 envelopes (the number of school days he thought we had) in each of which one of the seven of them had copied a poem or a joke or photograph, or written a note for me to open at the start of each day in my classroom.  So far this year, I have begun my day inspired by Longfellow, amused by my 7 year old, brought to tears by a love note, and made to laugh out loud by a funny photograph.   This Trail Magic has propelled me into my day with my students better equipped to resist the pressure to have that place become a factory of life sucking machine like accomplishment, and instead a space that restores and relishes the fullness of our humanity, in all of its mess and marvelousness, that we all may engage the world more alive than we were before.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Jane Gilbert, 4th grade teacher

Flourishing: A Trinity Journey

Needless to say, I have done more than my share of reflecting this past week as Sarah prepared to graduate. The last nine years of my daughter’s life have been spent at Trinity School. With each passing year, I watched her engage with the faculty carefully chosen to support the learners at each stage of development. I watched her experience the curriculum and activities that we as a school had developed to help students build a strong academic and character foundation, cherish childhood, empower learners, deepen experiences and to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and confidence. All of this was designed to help students flourish. It’s a lovely tagline, evoking a picture of life unfolding. The marketing strategy is more than a clever draw on one’s heartstrings. A Trinity journey results in students who flourish. I know. I watched it happen.

Sarah entered the Butterfly class, full of delight and activity. She was disinterested in coloring in the lines, often failed to follow instructions, and was busy when she was supposed to be sitting still. At the same time, she loved the roly polys she found at recess, cherished dress up time, and devoured the lunches – as her clothes clearly showed each afternoon. Reading came hard and slow for her. Her classmates zoomed ahead. Learning Team members intervened to support her, yet she still lagged behind. Friendships lagged as well. It was hard to be different. I often wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a good fit at Trinity. Sarah could do math with ease, and she loved art and music. But still the reading and writing kept her from feeling like she was a student.

Third Grade came and our lives changed in an instant with the death of her father. It was the Trinity family who made sure my daughter was okay. Miss Paige bought her art supplies, knowing how she loved to draw and perhaps drawing would help her sort out her feelings. Miss Coote showered her with love and encouragement. Miss Suzanne wrote her a note about her own loss at the age of 9. Ms. Hansen honored the math student that she was so proud to be. Reading was still the enemy, and she was even further behind due to the emotional toll and lack of progress.

Fourth Grade. A year that I had dreaded as a parent, knowing that the amount of reading and writing increased. Knowing that friendships become even more difficult for girls. Knowing that reading would impact the math student she was so proud to be. A diagnosis of dyslexia, flair pens introduced by Miss Nims, new methods of taking notes shared by Mrs. Dickey, Mrs. Lynah, a devoted Trinity teacher who tutored her with gusto, and Learning Ally turned her story around. Day-by-day, she gained confidence as a reader. For the fourth year in a row, her teachers had carefully placed her with her dear friend who loved her for who she was, and she had new opportunities to show what she knew in different ways. All of a sudden, she started talking like a student, sharing what she was learning, seeking information, choosing to read. She worked hard. So hard.

Fast forward to her Leadership year. Cobalt blue. Meaningful school field trips and outdoor education trips. Student Council. Carnegie Hall. Tours for prospective parents. Taking tours at prospective secondary schools. Projects where art and creativity were honored. Opportunities to think differently. Opera. Capstone about the advantages of dyslexia! And this week. . . Graduation.

Each year, growth as a learner. Each year, growth as a friend. Each year, growth as a thinker. Each year, opportunities to shine in her own way. As I have reflected upon her journey at Trinity School, and I have shed more than a few tears at this loss of childhood, I have been immensely proud of the school that has shaped Sarah, allowing her to stretch and honoring the gifts she brings so joyfully. Thank you, Trinity School, for helping my girl flourish.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves the Trinity Community as the Upper Elementary Division Head.