By Keith Dinh
Prior to the 2019-20 school year, every Summit Public School brought as many students as possible to a camping trip early in the first semester. For Rainier, students were taken to the mountains into the woods to stay for two days and camp overnight, and, over the years, this has become a defining part of Rainier’s culture that many students would look forward to every year.
Students would be able to spend the first day setting up their tents that they shared with their friends and participating in a variety of activities that their mentors would lead. Many of these activities included hiking, board games, poetry writing, origami, talent show practice, and even learning how to dance.
The students would be able to eat together and watch a talent show which spotlighted their peers, teachers, and even parents who had come to volunteer. The next morning, students would be able to take part in the annual Mentor Group Olympics, which was a series of games that each mentor group would take part in to be able to best the others in a competitive environment. After the winner of the Mentor Group Olympics was announced, everyone cleaned up their areas and headed back home.
On June 3, at the end of the 2018-19 school year, Rainier administrators sent an email to students announcing the termination of Summit’s annual school camping trips. This announcement brought mixed reactions from the students and faculty members of Rainier.
Rainier sophomore Aidan Franco-Lee expressed that the termination of the camping trip is something that negatively impacted the community. Being able to participate in the event during the previous school year, Franco-Lee recalled his memories as being very positive, transformative experiences that allowed him to be a more integrated member of the Rainier community.
In regards to the recent termination of the camping trip, Franco-Lee said, “I was really upset about it. Personally, coming to school here, where I didn’t really know anyone, the camping trip was really definitely something that got me to know my mentor group — It got me a lot more comfortable, and it really helps me and everyone, so it was fun, too.
In an effort to fill the absence of the camping trip with another event, Rainier’s faculty members planned a Community Day where students would walk to Lake Cunningham State Park and partake in the Mentor Olympics for the day. This year, students played games and had a barbecue in the afternoon after two of the games were completed. The final game was cancelled due to the extreme heat that day. Students were then directed to walk back to campus to be picked up after dismissal.
Franco-Lee expressed his opinion of the Community Day as an unfulfilling event in comparison to the camping trip, saying, “This year, I didn’t really enjoy Community Day because I felt that it was too short. Especially coming in and seeing all the incoming freshmen — knowing that they didn’t get that experience of the nice, long, overnight stay and really bonding with everyone — It was kind of like, ‘Oh, no, I’m sorry for you guys. You didn’t get the really fun experience,’ and obviously, I wanted it, too: I only came for one year, which was also like, ‘oof’.”
Rainier science teacher Shaila Ramachandran explained that she feels the pressure from the termination of the camping trip as a teacher. Ms. Ramachandran feels that her mentees, with the lack of the camping trip this year, have been looking for chances to find camaraderie and strengthen their bond as a mentor group, which puts pressure on her to find things to do with her mentees. In addition, Ms. Ramachandran believes that the camping trip is a major attraction for students thinking about coming to Summit Public Schools.
Ms. Ramachandran said, “I don’t think it was the best decision for students. I think it was an activity that really sets our school — our schools — apart from others, and it is a big selling point for students coming to us. And so I feel, for that reason, that they should have gotten more voices involved in the input stage at that.”
Believing that teachers and students should have been able to have a chance to give their insights and opinions toward the topic, Ms. Ramachandran explained that she believes the decision made in regards to the camping trip is a decision that should have had more input before the final decision was made.
“I was just reflecting on how I have a couple of new mentees this school year, and we didn’t have the benefit of them having a camping trip where they could really bond and immerse themselves in the mentorship group, and, so, instead, we kind of just had to hit the ground running with them, getting them accustomed to the work, and not really feeling, as a result, supported by that … Now, I feel like more of the pressure is on me to form more of those activities during the school year, like through mentor outings and things which we would do before. I feel like my students are really craving that and requesting that more throughout the school year,” Ms. Ramachandran said.
There are some students and faculty at Rainier who believe that the decision to remove the camping trip had more negative effects on the community than positive ones. Although, there are some in the community who have found neutrality in their position in regards to the camping trip decision.
Rainier Dean of Operations Lupe Trujillo has found some positive outcomes from the decision to terminate the camping trips. Mrs. Trujillo expressed that there is a lot to do logistically to allow the camping trip to occur, ranging from student paperwork to volunteer driver forms.
Apart from the logistical difficulties that she has encountered in trying to execute camping trips in the past, Mrs. Trujillo did say she feels some sadness from the decision to terminate the trips. She explained that she will no longer be able to see the talents that the students were allowed to showcase to a school-wide audience and see the bonds that are built between students during this time.
In response to these new changes in culture, Mrs. Trujillo hopes to be able to keep the tradition of the Mentor Olympics every year in the form of Community Day. She hopes to be able to improve the planning and agenda every year to be able to fill the void that students feel from the termination of the camping trip.
Mrs. Trujillo said, “We are going to try to do what we can to ensure that we keep these things intact. I think it has more to do with whatever we put in place. I think what I am more interested in is continuing the memories and the feelings that the camping trip provided, the teamwork aspect, all of that; but, I think if we can do that well in our Community Day, I think it can take the place of, and I think we can continue to build that community. This was the first year — we kind of went at it blindly — so I feel like it was not thoughtfully well-done. I think we could do a much better job, and I do think that there is a possibility for us to do just that to create those memories and all of that the camping trip inspired.”
Students and faculty at Rainier have varying opinions on the termination of the school camping trips, ranging from sadness to happiness and from frustration to neutrality.
A survey was conducted, asking Rainier’s community members what their opinions and feelings are about the termination of the annual school camping trips, and 86.4% of community members who submitted responses believe that the termination of the event was an unfavorable decision: 94% of the total responses attributed the termination to having a negative impact on the community, while 5% found the decision beneficial.
Here is a selection of the responses received:
Rainier sophomore Amanda Brand: It really isn’t good that the camping trips were terminated, and as a sophomore who only experienced the camping trips as a freshman, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as other people, and that’s why I feel so bad for the new freshman class of 2023, because instead of an unforgettable bonding experience, they got a poor substitute. The camping trips get better with age, and it’s really unfortunate a lot of people don’t get to experience the prime experience of the camping trips, or at all.
Rainier junior Joana Padilla: The camping trip was a time for my mentor group and I to regroup after the summer. It was a time to get to know others and just have fun. I was disappointed and mad because the students had no say in the decision of the termination of the annual school camping trips. We could have been warned. Summit is known for its camping trip, and the fact that they terminated kind of made others really disappointed.
Rainier senior Rigoberto Estrada: Well, to begin with, I’m a senior now, and this was my last year at Summit Rainier and at first when I found out about the camping trip being terminated on my last year, it kind of got me by surprise, this camp trip meant a lot to Summit. It was a time where us peers all came together and kicked off the beginning of the school year with great energy/memories and a chance for all of us to get along and actually come together as one school. What I´m really going to miss about the camping trips were the talent shows. The talent shows were a way for us students to show and express our talents to one another and believe me the past camping trips were amazing. It made me realize how many super talented kids we have at our school. But even though I’m not gonna experience the camping trip with Summit anymore, since I’m a senior and I’m leaving next year, I hope you all reconsider bringing it back for future students and for my brother, also, who will be a junior next year.
A Rainier teacher (who asked to remain anonymous): I believe it was done as a response to teachers unionizing and have heard it was actually not the wish of Summit Leaders but rather legal advice from their lawyer, with teacher sustainability/work hour expectations in mind. What would have been better about the process in my opinion is actually polling teachers, students, and parents about the effectiveness of the camping trip and whether they believe it’s something that should be kept and/or made “optional”/allow each school site to decide whether to keep camping trip themselves. There are some Summit teachers (at other sites) who strongly believe camping trip was unsustainable/too much to ask of teachers and was not a positive start to their school year due to student discipline issues that always came up. I feel that teachers staying overnight at a camping trip could be made optional/up to sites to decide how to handle if they want.
To see more pictures from both Community Day and the Camping Trip of the 2018-19 school year, see the slideshow below: