SOAR is a boarding school, camp, and GAP year program dedicated to providing experiential education, life skills development and adventure programs to those diagnosed with learning and attention issues. High adventure ADHD summer camp for youth and young adults with ADD, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.
8 am came around quicker than imagined. Trailer packed, van loaded and, in the blink of an eye, we were off to Denver. Our morning drive started with icy windows and sleepy eyes. We made it down to Rawlins where we jumped out of the van and prepared our lunches. This moment was when the entire team realized just how much gratitude we had towards the idea of spending the next two weeks in the sweet, sweet warmth of the greatly missed sunshine. Our fingers felt frozen like little icicles and we struggled to enjoy our sandwiches. Needless to say, we did it! We packed up the leftovers from lunch, hopped back into the van, and filled the remainder of our drive goofing around and sharing stories with one another. We were in Denver and unloading the van in, what felt to be, a snap of our fingers! Better yet? We were treated to pizza before grouping up and touching base on the expectations for morning and, lastly, crawling into our beds.
Sunday was an early morning! The team met in the hotel lobby at 2:30 am in order to be prepared for our shuttle to the Denver airport. Our ride was quick; we grabbed our bags and headed to check in. We had an enjoyably smooth transition through security and enjoyed our first flight to Houston. Houston was another smooth transition, even with such a short connection time. We boarded our next flight and the team spent the next two hours watching films, catching up on sleep, and reflecting through journal writing. We landed down safely, made it through customs, and were on our way to the Trek Stop! En route, we stopped at Hodes Place for a nice lunch in order to celebrate Nicks birthday! We made it to the Trek Stop just after dark and nestled into our new homes.
After resting up through the night we woke up to meet our guide, Miguel. We were soon off to Xunantunich (in the case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced shew-naan-too-nitch). We had a short drive up the road from the Trek Stop before a really cool river crossing which was run by manpower – something we were all so amazed by! We spent several hours exploring the Ruins and learning their history. We cooled off later that evening with some swimming at Big Rock Falls, jumping off rocks into the refreshing water, and swimming under the falls. Later that evening Miguel helped us pick out a delicious dinner from Benny’s – empanadas and salbutes!
We woke up on Tuesday ready for another adventure! After enjoying our breakfast, we were greeted by Miguel and an additional guide, Louis, and were soon heading to spend our day cave tubing! We had a hike through the rainforest and ended at the entrance of the cave, where the majority of the team began the caving experience by jumping off the little riverside cliff into the water. We floated past bats, stopped for a rock skipping competition, saw plenty of little fish, continued floating, and got out of the river for a very small walk in the cave for more cliff jumping! We floated our hearts out, raced one another through the tunnel, and had the best time! Though we could have spent the entire day floating through the cave, it eventually had to come to an end. We had one of the most entertaining rides back to the Trek Stop – dancing in the van with Louis, singing karaoke, laughing endlessly, and eventually picking up fresh flour tortillas for dinner. YUM!
Wednesday was, of course, another adventure filled day. We’re off to the ATM Caves first thing in the morning. We enjoyed our short hike, crossing rivers and walking through the subtropical rainforest. We waded into the cave and spent the next several hours in and out of the water, making our way to the back of the cave, walking the same paths the Mayans once did. We eventually climbed a ladder and entered a part of the cave that nearly immediately felt sacred. There were hundreds of clay pots – some fully intact with only a few cracks and drilled holes, others completely shattered and calcified. Not only was there, seemingly, untouched pottery but complete skeletons! There are seven skeletons that have been found in the cave, four of which we were able to observe first hand! Being face to face with these skeletons and amongst the previous offerings of the Mayans to the Rain gods in such a beautiful cave really felt unreal. We were in complete awe! We spent the remainder of the day contemplating what we had just experienced and, while some of the team headed back to the Trek Stop to rest up and get in some journaling, others of the team wandered around the market, came across some Maya Chocolate, and enjoyed freshly made pastries!
Thursday came quickly, as our day began quite early. This was the day we would be stepping out of Belize and crossing the border into Guatemala. The atmosphere was seemingly filled with gloom while the hazy fog left us with the expectation for a miserably hot day ahead of us. We made it, smoothly, into Guatemala and headed to the town of El Remate where we dropped off our items at the Sun Breeze Remado – what a beautiful hotel! It wasn’t long before we were hopping back into the van and on our way to the city of Flores. Flores was beautifully painted in bright colors and filled our ears with the sounds of honking horns and street chatter. We took a boat across Lake Peten Itza for a hike about a quarter mile in length which lead us to a wooden tower that provided us with a 360-degree view of Guatemala. This allowed us to become more aware of the landscape, highlighting to us that the city of Flores is, in fact, an island and that the Maya Mountains stretch as far as our eyes could see. Upon hiking back down to the boat, we had another short ride to where we would spend the next several hours jumping off rope swings into the lake and swimming in the warm water. The team faced their fears and swung from the high ropes, while others jumped and flipped off the diving board 20 feet above the open waters, challenged each other to games of chess, and satisfied their thirst with chilled sodas served in glass bottles. In order to replenish the energy which had been burned off during our days worth of adventures, several of us caught a breathtaking sunset, back in El Remate, before walking up the street for a dinner on a back porch overlooking the lake.
We woke, on Friday, to the sound of the birds in the trees and the nearby traffic moving through the streets. We had the opportunity to sleep in slightly later than the previous morning before beginning our day by crossing the street, to El Arbon, in order to indulge in steamy cups of cappuccino paired with warm homemade peanut butter cookies, baked with ground Ramon Seed. We continued to satisfy our yearning for coffee with fresh, hot cups of the local coffee before being presented with steaming breakfast plates full of beautiful colors and tasty looking foods. Some Stargazers enjoyed pancakes with freshly cut fruits while others delighted in toast and veggie omelets topped with freshly made salsa. To fill the desire for more caffeine – the Energia Betido was a wonderful compliment. Fresca banana, cocoa, y Romon Seed. The atmosphere of this place was every bit as welcoming as it was relaxing; the ferns and ivy-draped the surrounding walls, as did the creations of local artists. The mystical sounds of the music playing overhead added to the overall feeling of complete zen. Soon we would be off to Tikal. We packed our luggage into the vehicle, hopped in and began cruising down the road, passing through the landscape painted with palm trees, corn, farmers, and cattle. Soon after passing the entrance of Tikal, Edgar, one of our Guatemalan guides, pulled to the side of the road and pointed out to us several monkeys lounging in the treetops. We watched, momentarily, as a few of them crawled around and hopped branch to branch. The sounds of Spanish music rang through the speakers, into our ears, much like the breeze danced through our hair; it felt much like a dream filled with the yearning for love as the artist sang in an aching tone about Venezuela, while we drove through the jungle, catching simple glimpses of the sunshine beaming through the branches.
Parque Nacional Tikal, the City of Calcium: given the name “Tikal” for its calcium-rich walls of limestone, located in the northern jungle of Guatemala. In order to be defined as a jungle, the area must contain more than 15 species of trees and plants. Tikal is home to 105 different species of trees and over 100 species of plants! The rich and varying vegetation growth is stimulated by 100 inches of annual rainfall combined with an endless amount of sunshine. We hiked under Spider Monkeys, the second largest monkey in the Americas, as they swung through the trees using all of their limbs and their tail! The first largest monkey in the Americas is the Howler Monkey, which we didn’t have the opportunity to see but certainly heard on a handful of occasions. The Spider Monkeys are much more active than the Howlers; Spider Monkeys move very quickly and are active at most times whereas, the Howlers will typically stay up in one single free for the entirety of the day! The Spider Monkeys were considered sacred, to the Mayans, and were related to the underworld. The number 9 represented the underworld and with the monkey having no thumbs and only 4 fingers plus the arm was considered to be equal to 9. We gained an array of this kind of information during our hike through Tikal, gained appreciation for the history and belief systems of the Mayans, and enjoyed the nature surrounding us. We even saw three toucans and some really cool lizards!
We ended our full day with a home cooked meal by the family who runs the beautiful Trek Stop. And, to top things off, the team competed against one another, in a heated fashion, with a habanero pepper eating contest. Whew! That was a spicy one! Ask your Stargazers about that one for some really silly stories! We tucked ourselves into bed, later that night, after saying our farewells to the members of the Trek Stop who made our stay so welcoming and warm. We packed up our things and, on Saturday morning, started our journey south. We stopped for a hike into another cave and, later, cooled off with a swim in the Blue Hole encore checking in at the Education Center. That night we had the privilege to experience a night tour through the Belize Zoo! We saw so many big cats (some of which could do tricks like somersaults and rolling over), got to feed pet and Tapir, and even hold a big ‘ole snake!
After several days filled with endless adventure, Sunday was a day everyone was looking forward to! We made it to the coastline and enjoyed a refreshing soda before piling into the boat that would take us to the island of Tobacco Caye. It felt almost too good to have the salty water splash our faces as the shining sun warmed our whole bodies. We made it – it was like something of a dreamy paradise. We spent this day, and the next several, relaxing on the hammocks which hung over the warmer, read good books on the piers, snorkeled our hearts out, and even went hand-line fishing! The snorkeling was so neat, as it was many of the Stargazers first time! We saw so many incredible fish, sharks, coral, urchins, and some of us even witnessed a stingray eating a barracuda! Talk about cool! A handful of the Stargazers really took a liking to the idea of helping out on the island. A few members of our team were helpful hands in the kitchen – scaling fish, gathering coconuts, preparing meals, serving, and even cleaning up. I’d say we all felt truly at home during our stay on the island and were quite heartbroken to be leaving on Wednesday morning! It was time to get going, though.
We enjoyed the beautiful drive from Dangriga back to Belize City, enjoyed a riverside lunch, and before we knew it we were boarding our flight back to Houston! Most of the team napped through the flight and were well rested to make a quick transition through customs. Customs in the States takes quite a bit longer than it did for us in Belize!! But we made it! And we were quickly boarding our next flight. We landed in Denver and filled our bellies with tasty airport food. It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was snowing! Boy, I don’t think any of us were ready for that!
We started our drive back to Wyoming on Thursday morning, stopping in Fort Collins, Colorado for a grocery buy. The day went smoothly and the weather placed nicely for us. While we were sad to no longer be on Belize time, basking in the sunshine, we were very satisfied with our own beds that night! We’ve got a busy few weeks ahead of us, transition planning, finishing up CWC classes, and planning the final expedition. We’ll fill you in on all of our hard work, soon!
Your Stargazers are back in Wyoming and are beyond delighted to be back in their own beds, taking hot showers, and transitioning back into routine on base. It is so nice to be back to our home, though we are all experiencing a little bit of difficulty re-adjusting to the snowy cold weather that Wyoming has bitterly greeted us with.
Our first full day back to base started with a Life Skill lesson on organization then had us jumping right back into volunteering! A few of your Stargazers have some new volunteer placements, this semester, and this day was their first real taste of those new placements! The team was so excited to jump back into volunteering and to gain new knowledge and experiences. We finished off the day with a trip to the gym where some Stargazers danced, a few did self-guided yoga, and others got in cardio exercises and lifted weights.
Friday began with the beginning of our final expedition planning! The team all voted and chose our route, which will take us through California, again, into Nevada, and up through Utah. The Stargazers are incredibly excited about planning this final expedition and have found new ways of divvying up the research for planning that already has proven to be quite effective. After a handful of hours spent exploring final expedition options, the Stargazers finished up with organizing their personal spaces and cleaning bedrooms. This was a fantastic thing to get done before we headed into town to get some laundry done! Whew – how refreshing it was to get all that expedition laundry washed, folded, and put away into newly organized spaces!
The weekend allowed for quite a bit of productivity on transition plans and further discussing possibilities for the final expedition. The Stargazers spent a handful of hours, on Saturday morning, researching potential future jobs and colleges and began applying to a variety of different interests. After lunch, in order to take a much-needed break from all of the hard work, the team got in an hour of movement with an exciting snowball fight and racing one another down the hill on sleds. Once everyone had the opportunity to rid themselves of all the built-up energy, the remainder of the afternoon was dedicated to finishing up some applications, adding to transition plans, and working more on organizing personal spaces.
Sunday was a little bit more relaxed. We were able to sleep in (quite possibly the Stargazers favorite part about the weekends) and, after breakfast, headed toward upper base for a hike! The weather was bitterly cold and the snow was being tossed around in the seemingly angry wind. We plunged through untouched snow as we climbed the hill to the outlook. Upon our arrival to the top of the outlook, we were amazed to find snow so deep we playfully ‘swam’ through it. We got to experience the weather change in the blink of an eye; the sky started out bright blue and partially cloudy. Within minutes of arriving at the top of the viewpoint, a snowstorm had rolled in, painting the sky an intimidating and mysterious grey. What a sight! It didn’t take us long to decide we’d better head back down. We warmed ourselves near the fire while lunch was being prepared and, after filling our bellies, took some time in reflection to work on journals, meditate, and enjoy some personal free time. That night was the perfect chance for the team to celebrate two participants birthdays! In doing so, we enjoyed a movie night, ate funfetti cake, and snacked on popcorn!
Our work week started back up on Monday morning with a Life Skill dedicated to Transition planning. This allowed time for the team to continue working on applications and researching the different jobs and colleges that strike their interest in the completion of GAP Year. After a morning spent working on future goals and planning, the team made a trip into town for some exercise at the gym. The evening took a turn in a direction that wasn’t quite planned: respect has been a constant challenge and it was time to take things more seriously. The Director of the GAP Year joined us for dinner, where the team laughed, joked, and filled conversation through sharing stories. Before we began to clean up dinner, there was a conversation with the entire team about respect, what it means, and the importance of respectful relationships. Conversation and fun had over dinner was the perfect example of how we should speak with one another at all times! Because kind words have been such a challenge throughout the semester, the remainder of the evening was spent in silence. This time of silence allowed each individual the opportunity for reflection and mindfulness.
Tuesday morning also began in our state of silence. After the team shared breakfast, we had a really wonderful Life Skill on respect, the languages of respect, and the expectations concerning behavior and respect, from here on out. The team shared examples and carried a productive conversation which really turned around the energy in the room. It wasn’t long before we were heading out for a day filled with volunteering. We had an early night in order to prepare for the early morning ahead of us! Wednesday started with breakfast well before the sun was nowhere to be seen in the sky. We were on the road by 6:30 am and heading off to Lander for a day of classes at CWC. After wrapping up with class for the day, we made a quick trip to the Safeway in town to grab some groceries, before heading back to Dubois.
After a morning Life Skill on self-care, Thursday was another day spent volunteering in the community. While most Stargazers volunteered, a few spent their time in the library where they were able to work on CWC homework, journals, future meal plans, and transition plans. Whew – quite the amount of productivity! We all met, afterward, at the gym for an hour of exercise before heading back to base for dinner. While dinner was being prepared, a few of the Stargazers had the opportunity to have their Tier Check-in’s a day early!
The weekend was a time for relaxing, which was well-deserved for the busy Stargazer’s! However, despite the extra time for recharging, they still managed to be productive and healthy. The first morning started off with sleeping in an hour, followed by breakfast and personal time–which the Stargazer’s utilized by meditating/reflecting, doing CWC homework, or taking care of any other personal obligations. Next, the team headed to Riverton to buy food for the coming week with the hope of bowling in Lander after. But, whoops, forgot to call ahead and check availability helped the group learn the importance of calling and checking ahead of time. Upon return to base, the Stargazer’s completed chores to get confiscated items back, and were rewarded for their collaborative effort with mug cakes!
Sticking with the relaxed vibes of the weekend, Sunday provided another mix of recharging and productivity. After sleeping in and eating a delicious breakfast of pancakes and fruit, the Stargazer’s had more time to attend to personal needs and to have a chance to slow down, recharge, and reflect on the prior week or look ahead to the upcoming one. Following time for personal reflection, the team worked diligently to bolster their transition plans, helping to lay out their plans for this summer, fall, and beyond! After a filling lunch, they chose to spend their movement hour (or two) battling it out in the snow with a rambunctious game of Capture the Flag, which utilized problem-solving skills, creativity, and athletic feats of daring to try to outsmart the other team. For those that didn’t want to join, a pleasant stroll around the grounds, while taking in the playful battle, sufficed for their hour of movement. After the second game ended in a tie, the Stargazer’s piled into the kitchen, where they warmed themselves by the fire before dinner.
Monday was a day of learning and planning! After breakfast, the Stargazer’s got to choose which Life Skill they wanted to attend. Several chose to learn about auto care and maintenance, while the others learned about everything that goes into properly caring for pets. During the morning, both Life Skill groups were also surprised by our furry friend Jux, who is our director’s dog, which brought laughter and excitement throughout the team. After lunch, the team continued the important task of planning for their final expedition, with the goal of gathering more information about where they would want to volunteer, spend time in the backcountry, and attend a college visit. After working hard for a couple of hours, the team was rewarded with some personal time before dinner to relax and recharge.
The team spent Tuesday morning by continuing to learn about executive functioning, with a focus on their individual strengths and challenges. As part of this Life Skill, the Stargazer’s utilized their self-awareness and strategizing skills to create documents that will help them to understand their strengths, challenges, and strategies for their executive functioning focus areas. After lunch, the team loaded the van and headed out for volunteering before they finished off the day getting a solid workout in at the gym.
Wednesday was another early college morning, which started with the night stars greeting us ‘good morning’. We were on our way out the door, heading to Lander for class before the sun was awake. We got to experience a beautiful sunrise over the snow covered mountain tops as we traveled that morning. In class, the Stargazers had fun practicing professional phone calls and role-playing several different examples of customer service interactions. After wrapping up with class for the day, the team headed over to Riverton in order to do a weeks worth of grocery shopping at the Walmart in town. This made for a later evening than our past several nights and, as we made it back into Dubois, we were greeted with bitterly cold, yet mesmerizing snow slashing through the sky.
Thursday was Valentine’s Day! Our chef for the day made us breakfast and surprised us all with chocolate covered strawberries, pineapple, and bananas! What a sweet way to start the day. Our morning was filled with a Life Skill on Dating and Healthy Relationships before we were off to town for another day of volunteering. Staying true to their exercise goals, the Stargazer’s got another solid workout in, consisting of cardio, weightlifting, dancing, or yoga.
Thursdays Life Skill on Dating and Healthy Relationships was the perfect lesson to go over in order to prepare the team for Friday mornings Life Skill, taught by a special guest from Lander. The morning was spent talking more in-depth about healthy, sketchy, and abusive relationships. The team talked over several different scenarios, defined consent, and chatted about the different resources that can be utilized in the face of an unsafe relationship. The Stargazers were incredibly involved in this Life Skill and gained beneficial information that can be used now and for the rest of their lives! After lunch the team spent an hour of movement outdoors shoveling paths through the snow, digging out wood, and chopping kindling. The remainder of the afternoon was used to work on CWC homework and enjoy a little bit of personal time.
Saturday was spent doing the necessary, yet not-so-glamorous chores, such as laundry and deep cleaning. After sleeping in an extra hour and consuming a delicious breakfast, we were up and ready to clean any and every group space, which the team accomplished over the course of the morning. Once our group spaces were clean, the team organized their personal spaces with a vengeance in the hopes of finishing before lunch. After lunch, we filled our laundry bags, packed into the van, and trundled into town to do laundry, washing all sorts of sheets, clothes, and even one pair of attempted shoes. When we made it back to base, the team relaxed ate dinner and enjoyed each other’s thoughts at the evening meeting.
Monday consisted of important learning and planning. In the morning, the group learned about proper manners, which included being polite in guest/host roles, polite conversations, and table manners, among others. It also served as a way for the team to hold each other accountable and to notice where they could improve their manners. During lunch, Nicole got to spend some quality time with the girls talking about respect and the idea of not falling into the stereotype of women that gossip or don’t support each other. After lunch, the team dove into more expedition planning, which helped them to finalize their college visit and volunteering locations.
On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to have our friend and neighbor teach a Life Skill on support systems. Throughout the lesson, the team was engaged and energized, and her message that each individual member could achieve anything they set their mind to (just that certain things might require more work) really resonated with each of us. Following the Life Skill, the team went into town for another round of volunteering and had the choice of going to a church service or the gym, which provided a chance to de-stress after a long day.
Wednesday was jam-packed with activities, ranging from college classes at CWC in Lander to utilizing the rec center at the Riverton CWC, during which the Stargazer’s could work out, play basketball, or study.
New cabinets! Getting new cabinets in the kitchen was one of the various highlights Thursday had to offer. After a delicious pancake breakfast, the Stargazer’s made room for the new cabinets by cleaning out their food shelves (before leaving for Belize) and re-organizing the old ones. Once they had accomplished this, they utilized the rest of their time to work on personal obligations such as CWC homework, transition plans, and researching expedition plans. Soon enough, they had to head out to volunteer, which helped them stay active yet warm during these frigid days!
We’ve, now, come to the very end of this long and busy base phase! Friday began by meeting and talking all about Belize and the remainder of tasks that needed to be completed before we set out on our way. We spent the morning deep cleaning all of our spaces on base and getting our items together for Belize. After lunch, we were able to make it into town in order to get some laundry done one last time! We utilized our free time, while at the laundromat, to do our one-on-one tier check-ins, work on journals, and do some restful reading and writing. Once each Stargazer had all of their clean laundry, we headed back to base and got to packing! We even had the trailer packed up and ready to go by dinner time. We enjoyed some ‘cowboy mac’, had an evening meeting, and were surprised with fresh, warm, homemade pie topped with ice cream. YUM! With satisfied bellies, we called it an early night and headed to bed. Before we know it we will be off for our next incredible adventure.
Tomorrow morning will find us traveling to Denver, where we will catch an early flight towards Belize on Sunday morning! We are so excited about this upcoming expedition and can not wait to fill you in on all of the beauty and wonder that is experienced in the next couple of weeks! Keep your eye out for fun photos and sun-kissed cheeks!
By: Angelica Gentile-Tyler, English Teacher at the Academy at SOAR
If you have taken an English course in any American school, then you know what to expect: classic novels, term papers, chapter review quizzes, grammar worksheets, and grades for essays written in red pen. Many students with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder struggle to meaningfully engage in English classes like this example. Ignacio Estrada once wrote that “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” At the Academy at SOAR, our English department is engaging the whole child in English classes that break the mold of the “sit and get” model of some traditional school. We strive to engage students in rigorous thinking, reading, discussion, and writing in a way that makes sense and intrigues children who are often the first to decry “I hate reading” or “ I’m a terrible writer.” On our campus, students move, debate important news articles, color-code books, and write in ways that take a red pen to the traditional English class archetype. To be clear, teaching the “ADHD child” in ways that are engaging, dare we say even fun, is just good teaching for all children. So our English department works hard to choose relevant literature, dissect current events, and craft memorable lessons that help students rewrite their own narratives of what it means to be a critical reader, thoughtful writer, and effective speaker.
Engaging the Auditory Processor
Many students at the Academy at SOAR would rather spend hours crafting the perfect beach playlist than ever read a book voluntarily. They work best academically when they can slide on a pair of headphones and “zone into” their independent tasks. In our English classes, using a student’s auditory strength means carefully crafting lessons with plenty of opportunities to talk out ideas, process arguments as a group, analyze song lyrics, listen to political speeches, and teach students how to analyze tone and inflection in a video.
One project that really highlights how SOAR students use their auditory strength in English is our Symbolism Soundtrack assignment. During our first unit of the year, students read This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. As we studied figurative language, symbolism, allusions, repeating ideas, and mood, students were able to prove their knowledge and understanding of these concepts in a personally relevant way: by creating a movie soundtrack that would play if the novel was ever translated to the big screen. Students immediately jumped at the chance to show how their own musical taste could link to important ideas in the novel. Students analyzed the mood of scenes from the novel and the musical tones of a pop boy band’s heartbreak anthem. Others showed how the repeating lyrics in the chorus of their favorite hard rock song connected to repeating themes of frustration in the novel’s characters. Our aspiring soundtrack engineers had to carefully select scenes from the book and present logical claims for why their songs should play during one portion of the movie rather than another. Figurative language from rap lyrics were compared to the struggles our novel’s characters faced. Not only did students get to infuse their love of music into their detailed projects, but they were also able to skillfully display the English concepts they could apply to both music and their readings.
Get Moving: Engaging the Kinesthetic Learner
Curled up, alone with a good book in a cozy chair at the library sounds like heaven for some book-enthusiasts, but for an ADHD child, the prospect of silent reading glued to a couch might be a vision of misery. At SOAR, our English lessons often engage our students in movement.
Graffiti Board reading is a great strategy to get kids moving and analyzing short articles, without the strict limitations of a desk. A page or short passage is glued to a larger poster-sized piece of paper. Students then rotate in small groups to each poster, annotating the article, responding to other comments, or highlighting important parts of the text. Arrows, boxes, speech bubbles, and symbols are all part of the organized chaos of Graffiti wall reading. Because the passages are shorter than an entire article, students must move quickly at each “wall,” making sure to respond in their own colored marker to get credit for their thinking. For our students who struggle to sit still, this activity allows them to focus on their reading and analyzing, instead of worrying about controlling their fidgeting nature.
Another strategy that helps readers get moving in English class at SOAR is called a gallery walk. Similar to strolling a gallery in an art museum, students stroll the halls of the school, responding to posted images or passages that relate to our reading. Students exercise their inferencing and critical thinking skills, carefully analyzing the images’ important details, deeper meanings, or connection to our reading content. “Museum” visitors generate questions and start to see links between current events and our readings. Gallery walks are not limited to 2D displays either; objects and artifacts can also be used to aid in generating discussions or making concepts more concrete for kinesthetic learners.
Picture It! Engaging the Visual Learner
Students with ADHD and other learning differences often struggle to take abstract concepts, like the arc of a novel’s plot, and translate them into short-term memory. “I forget” and “I don’t remember” are often shouted when English teachers ask their students “ Do you recall our lesson last week on rhetorical speech devices?” Our English department strives to always make thinking visual by providing students with visually stimulating anchor charts for new concepts, lessons on annotating texts using highlighting, and other activities that allow students to process new concepts using their visual strengths.
Much of the 2018-2019 English curriculum is based on reading gurus’ Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s’ book Notice and Note. The authors explain that many students, especially those with reading difficulties or attention problems, struggle to know what is important in a new text or book. Notice and Note lays out a series of signposts, or writing strategies, that authors use in most literature and informational text. Signposts like Contrasts & Contradictions, Extreme Language, and Aha Moments help students know what to look for when they are reading. Students at SOAR are taught to annotate or mark up, each new text they encounter with our signpost symbols. Some symbols include a yin-yang for contrasts in the text or an exclamation point for the use of extreme or absolute language. Our visual students love drawing and marking over their articles and novels. Students begin to see patterns that authors use repeatedly and slowly they become more confident in attacking new texts alone. Using a few signposts in a dedicated way to help our students with memory and attention problems learn a skill deeply, rather than piling on mountains of new skills with little understanding.
Students with a visual strength can learn important English concepts through the act of drawing also. But rather than simply drawing pictures to accompany a text, students at SOAR draw to display their understanding of English standards, like analyzing the changing mood of a passage through a character’s dialogue. In one project, students highlighted mood clues and words with a strong connotation in their novel. Using markers, readers created a visual representation of the mood shifts in the passage. Students can literally see how the mood changes in a passage after processing through artistic representation.
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. ~ Albert Einstien
February 20th, 2019
By: Nicole Gerber
One important step we can take into understanding our true genius is coming into awareness about ourselves. If we dedicate time to have a deep sense of self-awareness, our self-esteem will grow and we will be one step closer to sharing our strengths with the world.
Understanding our brain and how it interprets the world around us is a good first step. Let’s start where our brain starts: the Amygdala. The amygdala is a section of the brain that is responsible for detecting fear and responding to emergency events. The amygdala is meant to act as a protector from harm. However, sometimes our amygdala can become hijacked creating a disproportionate response to stimuli.
Many of you have heard of fight, flight, and freeze. This is what happens when our amygdala is triggered by our 5 senses and/or feelings. We take information in through our five senses and our brain first decides how it feels about it before it thinks about it. We are feeling thinking creatures. Thus if our amygdala is triggered to fight or flight or freeze we can’t stop and think or process what is being said. How do we retrain our amygdala when the instinctual response was above and beyond what is needed to protect us?
Let’s pause for an example and some practice of identifying patterns in our brains. I’ll share a story and see if you can find the trigger, and identify the amygdala response (fight, flight, freeze).
Example. Sue arrived to school today and is looking out of sorts (eyes are low, not talking, frowning, hands are in fists). The teacher goes to Sue to ask to the side if everything is okay. Sue says “Yes”. The teacher with not much time to pause takes her response for fact and moves on directing the classroom. Everyone is directed to take a seat at their desks. As Sue moves toward her desk her peer isn’t looking where they are going and bumps into Sue knocking her slightly. Sue responds by throwing her books to the ground and yelling furiously at the peer.
Sue’s amygdala was hijacked! The peer only slightly bumped Sue. So why did she respond with such fury?
I would like to introduce something called kindling. Like a fire, if we are building a flame out of hot coals it will ignite quickly and without warning. If we have sufficiently used our strategies and built up safety systems to completely extinguish the fire it will take time to build again. Sue amygdala must have already been stimulated and ready to ignite! Let’s gather some more information with curiosity and patience.
Example: What I didn’t tell you about Sue was that she didn’t sleep well last night. On top of that, she had already been told three times that morning before she got to school that she was late, slow, and underprepared. KINDLING!
We have over 50 trillion cells to learn to control. Imagine it in the terms of Star Wars. Mastering our cells is like becoming our own Jedi master! Developing a way to slow our reactionary behavior and getting to know our amygdala may be the most influential set of cells we could learn to control. Here are some strategies to get you started!
Step 1: Nurturing a Healthy Brain
These tips were given by Jill Bolte Taylor (her website is located below).
Honor the power of restful sleep.
Pay attention to what we feed our cells.
Move your body! Stimulate your brain!
Observe when your amygdala is triggered.
Pay attention to what you are doing with your POWER (50 Trillion Cells)!
Having consistent brain health behaviors is very important. After we have that down, it is important to know that when our amygdala is in fight, flight or freeze, we can not use rational or reasoning. We have to first calm the amygdala before we can put back on the thinking cap and problem solve. Here is how.
Step 2: Calming our Amygdala
That is it. You can use breathing exercises and/or incorporate movement. Without calming the amygdala all the wisdom in the world will not get through. Trying to talk someone into calming down will prove ineffective if the person is truly in a place of fight, flight or freeze. We can only model breathing or get moving. You will know when someone is ready to start processing when they have lowered their heart rate, breathing has normalized, and their behavior is safe toward themselves and the people and things around them.
Now that we have tips about our keeping brains healthy, how can we understand our brains and learn about our triggers? Well my friends, let’s talk about that buzz word MINDFULNESS! Below you will find several techniques and exercises to utilize that help you stay in control of your cells.
Step 3: Get prepared! Practice and Repeat! (ONLY WHEN CALM)
These suggestions will only work when they are consistent and routine. Sure they will inform small bits, but if you don’t have a plan set-up don’t expect to use these in the moment of frustration. In the moment of frustration go back up to step 2.
Mindfulness Games and Activities: Pick one a week that sounds fun and practice as a family.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Breathe for 90 seconds, letting thoughts pass through your mind
Breathe and count while pressing your thumb to each finger on the same hand one at a time
Lay on the floor on your back place an object (it may symbolize a feeling) and breath watching the object rise and fall
Breathe through a straw
Create a labyrinth on the floor. Silently walk the path and breath.
Wall sits and breathing
Take a walk. Use your sense to name everything you can see, hear, smell, touch, and even taste.
Focused Attention Practices:
Pink and Thumb exercise: both hands in front of you, point right thumb toward the sky, and point left pinky toward the sky. Then switch and repeat, slowly picking up speed.
Star Fish: Put your hand with spread fingers on a flat surface. Trace your hand with the opposite hand’s finger and count. Moving back and forth tracing and breathing.
Pick a partner and have a conversation making every third-word pop. Then continue the conversation and stand on one leg. (Laughter is inevitable)
Games and Activities:
Cloudy Vs. Clear Mind (see the book: Mindfulness: Skills Workbook for Clinicians and Clients)
Implicit Memory Dice Game (see the book: Same as above)
I know this is just a start. Retraining our brains and the way we understand ourselves is a worthy cause. The perspective I have gained in my own life has been invaluable. I hope this seed of thought expands and sparks curiosity. Keep researching and find what works for you!
I am also sure that many families have their own list of resources that help foster a healthy brain and increased self-regulation. Do you know of a diet that increases healthy brain activity? Do you have a routine that helps with preventative measures to calm the anxious spirit? Maybe you know of some activities that focus all that wonderful energy in a positive direction? Please share those resources in the comments below.
Do you remember your favorite science lesson in school? Was it one of the classics – a dissection? Carefully engineering the protective casing to keep an egg intact on the egg drop? Digging in the ground for earthworms and roly-polies? I doubt that you remember with fondness the worksheets, tests, and powerpoint slides your teachers farmed out to you as a necessary evil.
Was it necessary?
Unfortunately, for many teachers and students, the answer is yes.
The Academy has the freedom to engage our students in small classrooms without the pressure of performing for standardized tests or trying to assess the level of understanding of 30 students at once. I am able to use multiple strategies to determine whether my students understand the concepts learned. These formative assessments can be as simple as asking probing questions to assess critical thinking, or I might have them construct a 3D model of an animal cell to demonstrate their understanding of cell structure. If a student can model the movement of chromosomes in mitosis with some string and pipe cleaners on their desk, I know that they truly understand the purpose of those steps in ensuring the correct number of chromosomes is in each daughter cell. And that concept is so much more important than memorizing which step is Anaphase and which is Metaphase.
Teaching those concepts requires a more hands-on approach as well. We’ve all heard the adage “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” credited to Benjamin Franklin. It is my goal in science classes to make that my practice as often as possible inside the classroom and out in the field on expeditions. Today the Biology students learned how to do Punnett Squares for genetics on paper, but we’ve also started seeds for plants with known genetics that we will cross-pollinate and then analyze the traits in the offspring to see the Punnett Squares in action (thank you Carolina Biological Supply Company for your Wisconsin Fast Plants!). In the field, hands-on science can be learning the effects of changing your center of gravity while climbing in the New River Gorge, testing water quality in the Okefenokee Swamp, or observing structure and function in saltwater fish of the Florida Keys. Hand-on science is beneficial for any student, regardless of diagnosis, but our AD/HD students thrive with it.
It’s not easy. It requires pre-planning, purchasing or gathering materials (I reuse more containers than you could ever dream of!), testing; even with all that it rarely goes exactly as planned. Which is not something to be afraid of! When we get unexpected results, that’s just a new opportunity for learning. We use our critical thinking skills to analyze the situation and try to figure out what happened.
How can this help you? Get hands-on with science at home! Cooking and baking are classic examples of ways to incorporate scientific concepts, experimentation, and changing variables into a fun hands-on activity. Nature journaling is a great way to practice observation skills, and joining a citizen science project can get the whole family involved in helping scientists understand the world around us. I’ve included some project I’ve been involved with below:
eBird – log your bird sightings, see what other people have seen in your area.
iNaturalist – works like Shazam for plants, fungi, and animals. Log your sightings and see what else has been sighted in your area.
NestWatch – is there a bird nest in your yard? Learn how to safely monitor the nestlings.
Tuesday marked the first day of our expedition! The Stargazers started out the day with a trip to Riverton, where our morning was spent learning about the Wyoming Job Corps and exploring the campus. We enjoyed a quick lunch in a snowy park before making one last quick stop to the grocery store and bopping into the van to begin our journey South. With an afternoon filled with traveling, we were able to make it to our first of many upcoming campsites: Deer Creek State Park, Utah. We awoke, in the morning, to the sounds of explosions – the ski mountain, up the road, was avalanche bombing! I mightsay, dynamite makes a great alarm clock! We packed up camp, filled our bellies and hit the road!
Our second day of expedition, yet another day of traveling, found us right outside of Las Vegas, Nevada! We drove through wildly incredible landscapes, got to witness a fantastic showing of the sunset, and eventually emerged from vast nothingness into the (unbelievably) lit up world of Vegas before setting up our camp beneath Red Rock. We were “lullabied” to sleep that night by the sounds of nearby coyotes and woke to see the painting of the sunrise coming up from behind the distant landscapes.
Our next destination: Ventura, California. Each day we drive, I find myself in awe of how beautiful the landscapes are of each town we pass. We had mountain views from start to finish, passed vacant desert land, cacti, tumbleweed, deserted buildings, traveling trains covered in graffiti, orange trees, and farmland. After several hours, we made it to our campsite and began preparing our bags for the Channel Islands! Our chef prepared us dinner as the sun set behind the palm trees, while the rest of us divvied up food, group gear, and snorkeling gear!
The next morning we made our way to Ventura Harbor in order to catch the ferry out to Santa Cruz Island. I don’t think that this morning could have been any more magical than it was. The salty breeze kissed our skin as we loaded onto the boat and within minutes we were off! It didn’t take long for us to realize that this ride was much like a roller-coaster as we charged into the waves at sea, up and down, getting splashed by the cool Pacific waters. At one point of our ride, the boat slowed down and, to our surprise, we realized we had a whole pod of dolphins surfing alongside the boat with us. There were hundreds of them, jumping out of the water, swirling around, and giving us the show of a lifetime! Once we made it to the island, we were greeted by the cutest Fox as the Ravens watched us unload our gear from the boat. We set up our camp, played a little bit of frisbee, and headed up the island for a hike to catch the sunset while we prepared dinner. Most of the Stargazers explored the area near our chef preparing dinner, while others played in the field, and some went for a run over the hill to catch an even better view of the sunset over the harbor.
Saturday was the perfect day to catch up on rest, hang around, and take it easy. We walked along the coastline, explore tidepools, took naps on the beach, had a rock-skipping contest, and eventually took another sunset hike! There was some less-than-desirable weather coming our way and by the end of the day the wind had picked up quite a bit! To our surprise, the 30 mph wind didn’t blow any of us away but the sunset certainly did!! The sky was littered with the brightest shades of orange and purple and left each of us utterly breathless. To make this day even more incredible, we caught the perfect beginning glimpses of the full bloodmoon. “Wow” – that’s all any of us could say. It’s almost as if the sky was just kissing us with blessings this entire trip!
We awoke on Sunday to even more persistent wind and found it the perfect reason for another hike, this time to Smugglers Cove, in order to hide ourselves from the 35 mph gusts! We fought the wind for several miles before hiking over the edge of the hill and reaching complete stillness. The sun felt warm against our skin as we walked by napping fox, and those darn ravens. When we made it to the cove we all felt the sense of pirates once walking these grounds. It was the perfect beach to spend the day hiding from the wind. We explored more tidepools, walked the beach, and even found a fresh orange tree – yum!
The next morning we packed up our camp and headed to the pier where (in a handful of hours) we would be picked up by our ferry. We spent another day lounging on the beach and body surfing the waves of the ocean. On our way back to Ventura Harbor we had another magical experience: two Pacific Grey Whales migrating to Baja California, Mexico. A few Stargazers mentioned that if we were to see whales on our ride back to shore that it would simply be the cherry on top of a perfect week – that was exactly it!! Later that evening we had the picture perfect view of Las Angeles from an overlook in Angeles State Park – where we called home for the night.
Tuesday was another driving day for us as we headed to Tucson, Arizona. We camped right outside of Saguaro National Park, in a really cool campground: Gilbert Ray Campground. We woke up on Wednesday to a pastel painted sky as the backdrop to all different sorts of cacti! After breakfast we were on our way to Kartchner Caverns State Park, where we received a remarkable tour of the cave. We finished this day with a trip to Little Anthony’s Diner where we treated ourselves to the the decadency of unimaginable milkshakes topped with things like slices of cake, marshmallows, twinkies, and all sorts of sprinkles. Much to our surprise, most of us were asleep in the van before even making it back to our campsite!
The next morning we made a visit to the University of Arizona and learned about the SALT program before exploring campus. SALT (Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques) is a support program that provides services to UA students who are living with learning and attention challenges. The SALT Center is committed to empowering growth in students through different strategies and techniques needed for success. While we, later, toured the University we were blown away at the school pride, the dreamy weather, and the beauty of campus. It even sounded like a few of the Stargazers were interested in applying to be a Wildcat! After a few hours spent at the college we headed to a park for lunchm where we had a couple of hours to catch up on journals and lounge in the beloved sunshine. We even squeezed in a trip to the laundromat to get a load of wash done!
Saturday morning we packed up our camp, again, and headed into Saguaro National Park for a hike out to Douglas Springs. WOO!!! The Park Service has opened up and we were happily greeted by Park Rangers who sent us on our merry way. We had a 6 mile hike into the Douglas Spring Campground, passing millions of cacti and eventually reached Juniper, as we climbed in elevation. Not to our surprise, we had another breathtaking sunset to experience – this time setting over the city of Tucson and its mountains. After the sun setting, the temperatures dropped pretty quickly. Thankfully, our chef was making us soup to fill our bellies before tucking ourselves into our sleeping bags for the night.
We were up before the sun and on the trail before the heat of the day. We hiked the same 6 miles back down to the van, though it looked like a completely different trail with the sun rising as we descended. We made it back to the trailhead in just about 3 hours and started our drive to Phoenix. On our way, we stopped right outside of Picacho Peak State Park for a beautiful lunch break. We got to our campground and were pleased to find that this campground unknowingly had free showers for us to enjoy! A few of us snacked, some read, and others showered. We took a vote and decided that we would go see the movie “Glass” – an interesting twist on a thriller/drama/superhero movie. Some loved it, some were indifferent. Either way – we all enjoyed the satisfaction of popped corn and getting a comfy seat inside for a few hours!
Monday morning we really started our trek back to Wyoming. We had an unexpected (and breathtaking) surprise stop at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for lunch. Dang – to think that a running river could do all of that! It was, yet, another incredibly beautiful experience that left us in awe of nature’s wonders. Our final destination for the night: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, in Kanab, Utah. Sure enough, the sand is coral pink in color (and even felt like we were walking in kinetic sand). Another early morning had us on the road before sunrise, which made for a beautiful drive out of the Park as the sun began to wake up and fill the sky with all sorts of colors. Tuesday was another day filled with traveling back home. We finished at Antelope Island State Park, Utah.
Wednesday was an incredibly peaceful drive back to Wyoming. We broke up our drive with a stop in Riverton to grab groceries for the upcoming week, before making it all the way back to base. Wyoming was covered with snow – something that felt foreign to us by this point in our expedition. We made it back to base just in time to have built up an appetite, which was soon fulfilled with hot, homemade lentil vegetable soup (thanks to mentor Grant!) and some tasty garlic bread.
We wrapped up our evening by filling Grant in on all of the fun times, laughs, and beautiful memories that were created and experienced over the course of expedition. Long and hot showers were certainly enjoyed, as were our own beds! As incredible as our experience over the past two weeks was, we are all excited for this base phase where we will jump back into volunteering, CWC classes, transition planning for post program, preparing for Belize, and planning our final expedition. We look forward to sharing upcoming laughs, smiles, and experiences with you from our time spent back home, at EVR!
They did it! The Stargazers made it back to Wyoming and were greeted with open arms, smiling faces, and snowy skies! Lounging around the Jackson Airport, while waiting for our whole team to arrive, allowed the perfect amount of time to catch up with one another and tell some fun stories before hopping into the van for our long haul back to our familiar home, Eagle View Ranch. There were many sleepy eyes and resting heads on our commute back to base and by the time we made it back everyone was rested and rejuvenated. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with excitement by our newest participant, Kevin! All that was left was to wait for Nick to arrive later that evening, and we would all be back to the little home we’ve created. That evening, the team unpacked their items, settled back in, and made themselves comfy with one another, while we celebrated being back together as a family. We also enjoyed a home-made pizza party. Yum!
Our first full day back started at the sound of the entire team cheering and ranting, greeting Nick back, as it was the first time most of the team was finally all together! We enjoyed our breakfast, continued with stories of vacation and being back home, and all getting to know our newest friends: Kevin and Carson. The majority of our day was spent in conversation with families, during inbriefs, and re-organizing and cleaning personal spaces. It was certainly a full day for each of us, which ended ever so sweetly: an ice cream social! Our bowls of ice cream were topped with warm freshly baked brownies.
The next couple of days were spent getting back into the rhythm of GAP life. Tuesday morning started with a fun life-skills class, taught by Grant, on the topic of Team Building. We talked about what team building is, what it looks like, and the different benefits that come from team building. The Stargazers spent an hour playing different games and being a part of several activities that challenged them, as a team, and allowed them to figure out several different strategies in order to work together and achieve specific tasks and goals. It was a nice way for the team to let out some energy before we jumped into reviewing our budgeting skills! After lunch we all created fitness goals for ourselves that we can reference on days that we work out at the gym. The remaining parts of our day involved walking around base for fresh air, racing each other down the hill on sleds, working out in the barn, and even deciding the destination for our upcoming Expedition: Arizona and California it is!
With accomplishing so much the previous day, it was refreshing to start off Wednesday with a Yoga class in town! Last semester, we quickly discovered how much we all loved yoga and we were thrilled to be starting this semester off with a session! We left class feeling restored and ready to tackle our to-do list for the day. First, another Life Skill – this time concerning Transition Plans and Expedition Planning. With already having decided that we’d like to travel to Arizona and California, everyone was really excited to get down to the nitty-gritty with the Expedition Planning. Hours were spent researching all of the the different places that each team member wanted to visit and talking about all of the different places that everyone was finding!
Thursdays schedule was very similar: a Life Skill lesson on Executive Functioning, followed by diving right back into figuring out the details for our Expedition. This day, we realized we would need to flip-flop our Expedition plans so that we would be in Phoenix, Arizona on a week day for a tour of the SALT Program at Arizona State University. The switch worked out perfectly and left us doing more research into all the different activities we could incorporate into the Expedition! With all of that hard work complete, a trip into town for an hour of movement at the gym was exactly what everyone needed! Half of the team used this time to lift weights and run on the treadmills, while the other half of the team danced their hearts out in the Yoga studio. Fun was had, and it felt great to release some energy!
Every Friday morning of our base phases, we have a weekly meeting with the whole team and Nicole. Our morning meeting this week served as the perfect opportunity to catch up, all get onto the same page, and talk a bit more about our Expedition plans. Next up were tier check-ins. This allowed the whole team to chat with their primary mentors, talk about individual goals and strategies, review budgets, and talk about how things have been going since arriving back to SOAR. As the Stargazers finished up their check-ins, they found it the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the beautiful weather we’ve been having and take the sleds out for more races down the hill.
I think everyone looks forward to the weekend because we have the chance to sleep in just a bit! We all set our alarms an hour later than usual, met for breakfast, then were off to Riverton for a little food buy at Walmart. Once we got back to base we picked back up with our Expedition planning process. I think we’ve got it – the team squared away just about everything needed for our plan! Just a few finishing touches and our plan will be complete! Yay!
Sunday morning was spent with the Stargazers giving their full attention to those final, finishing touches. Before long, we were all heading back into town, this time to get some laundry done before we began packing for our quickly approaching adventure. The Expedition Plan was finished and just needed approval before the team could begin making reservations. The hard work and dedication really paid off, as everyone had the opportunity to take personal time and spend the evening unwinding, hanging out with friends, and getting college applications sent in.
Monday morning, the plan was approved and we were all set to finally make those reservations. Can you believe we were all wrapped up with the planning process before lunch time!? Campsites reserved, activities booked, maps printed, gear list created. Now, the only thing left: time to pack! We had another Life Skill, on this day, which led us to the topic of Social Media. And another Life Skill on Tuesday, concerning communication. Tuesday brought excitement to the whole team because they got back to volunteer for the first time since last semester.
Wednesday will find us at the Job Corps, in Lander, followed by another food buy before setting out on our Expedition! We are all so excited for what the next couple of weeks have in store for us. There was so much hard work and dedication put into this planning process and, with the feeling of accomplishment inside the Stargazers hearts, the team is ready to hit the road! We’ll meet again soon, with news of our travels and photos to share our experiences with you all.
We are informed, by people who claim experts in such matters, that nurturing gratitude is a healthy habit that leads to a well-balanced life. If that is the case, then we have a bit of healthy work ahead of us. There are many people to whom we ought to show some gratitude, of whom this is just a sample.
Our warmest regards to Shea and all the staff, especially Ms. Kiana Thornton at the Holiday Inn Express Slidell, who rapidly warmed to our children as we practiced “Leave no Trace” during the chaotically continental breakfasts, and who festooned our children with treats… just because.
Thank you to the two wonderful ladies at Jean Lafitte Baratarian museum, who shared so much of their family history and the present and future of the people the town of Jean LaFitte and the noble history of smuggling, piracy, shrimping, ghosts stories and general tomfoolery, skullduggery and courage.
We are grateful to the Audubon Insectarium and Aquarium, who shared their knowledge, expertise, butterflies and manta rays with us.
We were relieved when Dr. Rachel Kobe at Pontchartrain Animal Hospital realized that Jeffrey had fallen madly and desperately in love with a yellow, swamp-soaked snake-killing bird-hunting nomad, and who moved heaven and earth to ensure that upon our departure, she’d be ready to become a mountain dog in her new forever home. Welcome home, Sadie Beignet Grabe!
We were festooned with history, culture, and cuisine when Chef Ricardo at the New Orleans School of Cooking taught us about Gumbo and crawfish Etouffe. I was personally grateful that, after my heart breaking decades of making roux with the consistency of cottage cheese and the flavor of resignation, he finally taught me how to make that miracle happen.
We were fortunate to have learned Creole culture from Cajun culture, a distinction previously only vague to most of us but essential to understand revolution, jazz, soul, blues, rock n roll, civil rights, and myriad other things that make our nation what it is today.
An extraordinary effort was made by the Infinity Science Center staff in general, and Melissa and Bill in particular who guided our heart dissection…I’m fairly certain I had as much or more fun than the students did. Their questions were great, even if the occasional comment was a bit more culinary than scientific.
The Team of Lea, Jessica and Mark at the Mardi Gras World experience. We were flabbergasted by the skill, the resources, the depth of the tradition and the breadth of its impact on the economy. The complexity, scope and artistry of one of America’s oldest cultural traditions will not soon be lost on us or our students. The masks were beautiful, too.
I’ll be the first to admit that there may be a few I have left behind, but the town showed such generosity of spirit and joie de vivre that I should emphasize that the failure is all mine, as to mention them all would make for more of a document than we have time to read. Seeing something through the eyes of a student is always a privilege, and for those of us who teach them, it is one privilege deeply to be cherished. As doses of gratitude go, this seems to be as healthy as they get. I hope that the people know how we felt before we left. If not…I guess we’ll need to return. Any takers?
Many amazing things happened at SOAR in 2018, and we are excited to share them with you!
1. In 2018, we served 647 campers across all of our locations this summer. We are excited to hopefully exceed this number in 2019!
2. In 2018, 27 campers received scholarships to attend camp, including three full scholarships! We know that there are so many more campers out there who need financial assistance, so we have exciting plans to help grow this number in the coming years.
3. In the Spring of 2018, five students graduated from the Academy at SOAR. We are very proud of all of our graduates. Some are currently pursuing higher education, some are in the workforce, and we have one graduate attending our GAP year program in Wyoming. All of them are displaying signs of a bright future.
4. A huge highlight of 2018 was introducing the newest member of our SOAR team: our Family Support and Alumni Cultivator, Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Simpson! Liz’s sole function is to support families and Alumni of SOAR. Our goal for this position is to be able to provide more support to our SOAR families and Alumni during the year and once they leave camp, the Academy or our GAP program.
A little about Liz:
Liz has a BA from the University of Wyoming in Education and a Ph.D. from Auburn University in Educational Psychology. She is a lifelong educator and advocate for children and families. Liz began her career as an interpreter for the Deaf in Casper, Wyoming. She then went on to work with court adjudicated youth in a residential program, later becoming acting director of that program. From there, she spent 20 years as a special educator in public and alternative schools. After seeing a great need for teachers to be better prepared to teach differently abled children, especially children with LD, ADHD and Autism, Liz went on to teach Special Education, Human Development, and Collaboration at the University of Wyoming. In 2010, Liz was asked by the State of Wyoming to develop their distance-learning program. For the past four years, Liz has been an independent consultant to parent groups on how to help their children with special needs be successful in school, their communities and in life. We feel very lucky to have Dr. Elizabeth Simpson join our team and we are excited to see what wonderful ideas and support she brings to our families at SOAR.
5. Our Wyoming base completed their Alpine Tower in 2018. The Alpine Tower is a three-sided structure, one side has a climbing wall and the other two sides consist of challenge elements with cargo nets and climbing poles. The Alpine Tower helps our kids to push their boundaries and overcome obstacles with perseverance and goal setting skills, but most importantly, it is a lot of fun!
6. The Academy at SOAR launched its first ever TEDx event in May of 2018. This event gave our Academy students the opportunity to speak on a public platform and provide information to spark learning, as well as provoking conversation on a topic of their choice. This event was a great success and is something we hope to continue hosting in the future!
Written by Olivia Carlisle, Glen Frank, and Nicole Gerber
After CWC and completing our final credit for the semester we took off toward Colorado, pushing us one day closer to our Texas Thanksgiving! I think we were all thankful to go for a van ride, tune out the stress of the exam and breath deeply as we prepared for the adventure ahead.
We passed by many small towns on our long day drive through Texas. The houses in these towns were beat up and wounded, their faces revealing the scars of battles lost from memory, but the houses remembered. Their bodies remained the paper on which the histories of their past were written. Their bodies continue to keep the score.
How do people live in those houses? Why do they live in those small towns? Besides the beat-up look of the houses, the town seemed devoid of fascination and intrigue. The colors of the landscape were decaying shades of yellow and brown with highlights of sickly green to tie it all together. Fields bleeding with these dreary colors were all that the eye could see. Besides the company of fellow beat-down houses, civilization seemed so far away. If I lived in one of those towns, it would be boredom, not death, that would be my doom.
But this is just my perspective. I don’t really know the stories of these small towns and their people. I don’t know who sought to build a life amidst those walls; I don’t know the battles their people have fought, or the dreams and passions that made it all worth it. I don’t know the lives that were birthed and cultivated there, or those that passed into Hades’ hands with the quick kiss of night. There’s a lot I don’t know. All I know is my interpretation of their stories.
That’s okay, though. Not all stories are meant to be known.
After squatting in the van for hours the day before, we decided to go on a long hike to stir our sleeping muscles. Throughout the rest of the sunlit day, we hiked a 8.5 mile trail through the Guadalupe Mountains. Needless to say, our muscles were jolted awake by the climb.
The journey up through the mountains was entirely uphill, meaning that we had to push the pedal to the metal to make any headway. Despite the discomfort of clamoring uphill, the view from the trail was breathtaking. The mountains were gigantuan and seemingly never-ending, yet with an effortless elegance that softened their imposing stature. They had a pleated look to them, like an infinite piece of cloth draped across the desert landscape. Perhaps Mother Earth is sleeping dreamlessly underneath the heavy rock cloak, I thought. Maybe, after sleeping for an eternity or two, she will wake from her slumber and achingly raise her colossal limbs from the earth, desecrating all the life that had once thrived there. Maybe, after ridding her Pelt of Wonders from its wandering pests, she will raise herself off our now-barren home and warp herself back into the eternity of space and time, determined to return to an unknown cause. I mean, if the world eventually ended, I think it would be funny if it was because some broad woke up from her nap.
“Let the world end not with a bang, but with a yawn.” -Olivia Carlisle, 2018
The way down was wonderfully effortless compared to the first part of the trail. We got to take our time examining the scenery and letting our thoughts wander, instead of having to put the mental energy into pushing upwards.
The end of our hike is celebrated with a Thanksgiving meal, complete with rotisserie chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and, my favorite, stuffing. Nothing tops off a day better than eating the breaded filling that is placed in a turkey’s anus. Delicious.
Carlsbad Caverns called us to it with its low, murmuring siren’s call. Like flies captivated by a light (perhaps an ironic metaphor in this instance), we slowly descended into its darkeded abode. We crept deeper and deeper into the belly of the magnificent beast until the faint shimmer of natural daylight was replaced by the false lighting of the cavern’s walkways. Instead of devouring us alive, though, the beast chose to instead show us kindness by allowing us to explore its’ treasure chest of naturally made gems, cool looking stalagmites and stalactites. In each room that we explored, we found uniquely fascinating formations. Some looked like giant, malformed brains while others looked like a toddler threw spaghetti at the cavern ceilings.
We were also interested in the history of the caverns. They have been forming for millions of years using only water, air, and pressure to sculpt its unique landscape. So much has happened throughout those millions of years: the dinosaurs reigned the earth and then catastrophically vanished, the human race evolved from rock-banging neanderthals to tool-using neanderthals, entire nations were built and destroyed through vanity and warfare, etc. And through all that, the cavern kept steadily blossoming. In a weird way, the cavern’s evolution is a perfect example of nature’s deeply-embedded philosophy: focus not on the virtues and vanities that consume consciousness; focus instead on steadily growing oneself at one’s own pace. I think everybody could use that way of thinking to develop a richer inner life and sense of being.
After exploring the caverns for a couple of hours, we went food buying. We started off buying food at the worst Walmart, which had very little selection and no produce section. Since it sucked so hard, we pulled out of it early and went to a Hispanic grocery store of higher quality. In addition to actually having a produce section, they had some pretty rad piñatas looming over you while you bought said produce. I could imagine some health nut parents buying a piñata and stuffing it with apples, boxes of raisins, and cheap, sugar-free mints for their poor child’s birthday. Maybe I’ll do that to my future kid if they tick me off too much.
Not a whole lot happened, other than driving to Big Bend in preparation for our next backpacking trip.
We all felt anxious about the upcoming trip. Our mentors told us that it’d be harder than our previous trips: we would have to hike roughly 11.5 miles each day, meaning that we’d be walking from dawn ‘till dusk. We worried about how we would handle the stress, given that we’d never had to deal with such long hikes before. At the very least, we figured that there was a very high probability that we’d survive the trip. That helped a little.
We woke up at 5:30, our bodies aching and moaning at having to remove themselves from the warmth of sleep so soon. We summoned up what little energy we could muster and heaved ourselves into action. It was rough, but it needed to be done.
After we finished breakfast and packed the trailer, we were ready to start. Right as the sun began to rise, we began marching on the trail that would take us three days to complete.
Usually, this kind of hike would be relatively ok. Usually, I could muster up enough motivation to continue on without too much pushback (I’ve got grit, darnit). But the trail seemed impossibly long. Each hour was filled with the persistent ache of boredom and exasperation. I understood that from an aesthetic point of view, the landscape surrounding the trail was beautiful, but my mind seemed disconnected from that. All I could think about was wanting the hike to be over with, and feeling crestfallen upon remembering that it was only the first day; there was so much more to overcome before the end.
I knew, deep down, that those were the kind of experiences that really built strength. When you’re in a situation where you really have to push your mind to the limit to maintain agency, you know you’re going somewhere good. And one day, after all of this has passed, I knew that the experience would be viewed as a good struggle, despite all the crap that came with it in the moment. But throughout that day, all I could think was God, this day friggin’ sucks.
After an extremely restful sleep, I woke up feeling energized. We had already gotten through the first third of the trip and gotten a feel for the path. I flung my backpack on, motivated to move on.
We kept on steadily proceeding through the trail. The boredom and aching were still present, but their effects were mitigated by our growing determination. With each step, we grew closer to the finish line.
We started to grow more antsy towards the end of the day. After spending hours upon hours marching on, the exasperation at the length of the trail crept back in. By the time we reached our campsite, exhaustion had infected every inch of our minds and bodies.
We shimmied into our sleeping bags as the stars peeked through the hazy navy sky, and let the tiredness drip away from our bodies as the glow of heat lulled us to sleep.
Unlike the previous two days, we were blessed with a breezy 8 miles on our to-do list. We felt excitement coarse through our veins: we were so close, and we had already gotten through the most physically and emotionally taxing parts of the journey. We could practically feel the calming sensation that would wash over us upon finishing.
We rushed through the last miles and let out a whoop and holler when we saw our starting point. A mixture of pride and exhaustion swept across our crew: we had done it, difficulties and all. We spent the rest of the day repacking our trailer and chilling while eating snacks. A reward for a job well done.
After a long 31 miles, a long soak was in order. Fortunately, the Langford Hot Springs, remnants of an old resort, was not far away. After a short hike, we reached the natural hot springs on the Rio Grande, fifty feet from the border of Mexico. We all luxuriated in the hot water, letting our tired muscles relax. We left reluctantly but needing to get on the road to Las Cruces. The night was capped off by the quickest food buy (unofficial) in GAP Year history, coming in just under 48 minutes car-to-car, racing against time to make sure we reached our campground before it’s gates were shut for the night.
We visited New Mexico State University in the morning, meeting with the Accessibility Services director for a quick overview of her office and what students should expect in college, followed by a tour of the beautiful campus. Tier check-ins followed that afternoon in a nice little park not far from NMSU.
Due to a wind advisory calling for 60+mph winds on exposed ridgelines (where we would be climbing and camping), our backcountry climbing trip was unfortunately called off. Taking the change of plans in stride, we instead drove over to White Sands National Monument, where we hiked atop apocalyptic dunes, visited a gift shop, hung out at a trendy little ABQ coffee shop, and finished the night with surprise tickets to Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen biopic.
After warming in a coffee shop for a few hours in the AM, our crew headed out for some alpine crack climbing training at Carnuel Crag, a small climb site just outside of Albuquerque. The wind was strong and cold, but the rock protected us from it grandly. Some participants were introduced to crack climbing for the first time, a form of climbing which involves putting yourself within a crack of rock, and chimneying up much like Saint Nick after dropping packages under your tree.
We woke up to four inches of powdery snow covering our tents. Due to the weather, we headed into town and inside, to Stone Age Climbing Gym where we bouldered for the better part of the day, and grabbed showers before leaving. I’m not sure anyone could feel their hands after the great workout.
We awoke again in snow, though this time not covered in it, and began the drive from Albuquerque to Pueblo, CO. The highlight of the day, if not the final portion of the trip, was the expedition pizza party at Pizza Ranch. Approximately 25-30 entire pizzas were consumed. Whole weeks of calories came and went. Ice cream flowed. All the healthy eating habits went out the window for one glorious moment of splurging, and we returned to our campsite warm, happy, and very full.
The drive from Pueblo back to Dubois is a long one. We stopped on the way to experience the coldest lunch of our lives in a Loves outside of Laramie. We made it back to base by dark due to our short days of sun during Wyoming winters. We unloaded gear, ate a delicious meal prepared by Theresa and we all crashed early (glad to be back).
Home Sweet Home
The team returned with exactly 8 days before flying home to meet families. Transitions are difficult no matter how much celebration is anticipated on the other end. The stress of the challenges throughout the semester bubble up. Growth and change is hard. With the finish line and a break in sight much of what the team can muster looks vaguely of backsliding and old habits. Things are getting done, yet reminders are more necessary and the pace is slow. This all makes sense, so the leaders decide it is time to CELEBRATE the success!
Over the final week the team has their final volunteer placement day with lots of praise! They also have several meetings with individual mentors to discuss the growth and expectations they will go home with. Each conversation slowly builds pride in the participants and all the work they have put into the team and themselves. Miranda helps sooth the deep conversation with some Hanukkah celebration with a traditional Motsaball soup!
The team takes a moment to enjoy the holiday season with cookie making and ice skating in Jackson. It isn’t hard to get in the mood with all the snow and the chill in the air. The Star Sleepers celebrate two birthdays Roxy and Olivia! Pizza party, games, and movie nights help the team take a break from the preparation for home.
The final night the team shares dinner together of Charle’s delicious chili! After dinner and logistics each team member writes their name on a piece of paper. During this silent activity the colored construction paper passes around the table as each participant writes memories, jokes, and appreciation for each other. At the end everyone stops to reflect on how they are appreciated and shares their favorite sentiments with the whole group.
This semester was jammed packed! Full of growth and change, tears and sore muscles, laughter and inside jokes, learning and challenges, pride and building self-esteem. Overall, I hope we can all say THANK YOU! Each member of this big beautiful team brought it! They brought their unique selves to the table and expanded! We can’t wait to see you all again soon! Looking forward to the adventures ahead! For now…REST, and CELEBRATE!