Connecting With Nature Helps Build Confident Seventh Graders

In early May 2024, Synergy seventh graders took off on backpacking expeditions in Point Reyes National Seashore. Ariel Leighton, Synergy’s Outdoor Education Teacher, and I planned this overnight trip for our 25 students to explore Point Reyes’s ecosystems and work together as a community. They started their trek up the spine of Point Reyes to Sky Camp, where they spent their first night. Students learned the basics of outdoor living skills, setting up their own tents, cooking their own meals of cheese and bean quesadillas–with optional chicken, which was described as “surprisingly good”—and learning how to take care of themselves in the outdoors while following the principles of Leave No Trace.

On their second day, they broke camp after a smashing breakfast of cheesy hashbrowns. The group learned how to read a map and compass and discussed the day’s route. Students furthered their understanding of Leave No Trace with a riveting lesson on using a cathole and then made their way through Woodward Valley. A major highlight of the second day was the solo hike: a 0.8-mile section of controlled trail where Synergy backpackers moved along just out of sight and earshot of their companions to enjoy some quiet reflection in nature and a moment of challenging independence before joining the group at the day’s lunch spot. From there, the trees opened up to sweeping views of Drakes Bay, and our destination was marked by a grand eucalyptus tree off in the distance near the beach: Coast Camp. 

The stay at Coast Camp is always a special one–by this time, everyone knows how to set up their shelters and kitchens, cook, and clean. While these activities are all fun on their own, moving through them quickly leaves plenty of time for play on the nearby beach and to enjoy the sunset over the Point of Reyes together from the giant boughs of the eucalyptus.

On their final morning, the group hiked out along Limantour Beach to find parents waiting to take them back to the city and to two things they had collectively fantasized about on the trail: some fast food on the way back and a hot shower at home.

This parting may have been bittersweet, though: when students were asked to reflect on their experiences, the overwhelming majority reported that not only did they have fun, but that they left feeling like they had accomplished more than they expected of themselves or of the group, more connected to nature and each other, more confident in their outdoor living skills and their abilities to take on new or unfamiliar things, and wanting to try out more activities like the backpacking trip. We can say without reservation that this trip was a success.

See more photos in the Synergy School photo archive

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