Each spring, a group of 8th graders at Evergreen Community Charter School backpacks 8 to 10 miles through Pisgah National Forest on a multi-night trip. The trip, which has been a tradition for more than 15 years, is intended to provide students with a challenging experience as a rite of passage for their transition to high school. “This trip is deeply embedded in the Evergreen experience,” says associate director Jen Watkins. “Students and families hear about the trip for years in advance. They both dread and look forward to it, but they return knowing they can face challenging situations, including their next journey to high school.”
While backpacking might be thought of as “roughing it,” there is still considerable financial investment needed for a trip like this one. “The cost of the trip alone is more than many families can afford, and the necessary gear for the trip can also cause financial hardship,” says Watkins. This year, Evergreen will be able to make the trip more accessible to its students thanks to a $2,500 NC Schools Go Outside (GO) Grant awarded to the school by the NC Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council. These newly established grants are intended to increase access to field study locations and assist with other expenditures that result from taking students outdoors.
Skyla Delerme, an Evergreen graduate and an associate teacher for seventh and eighth grade at the school, still remembers her backpacking trip on a section of the Art Loeb Trail. “Even though the hiking was challenging, I came away with a newfound passion for hiking and backpacking,” she says. “As a novice backpacker at the time, the scariest part of the trip was stepping into an experience that was unfamiliar and new. All of it was a bit scary, but once I realized I was capable of the challenges ahead and found support in my crew members and instructors, the trip became the perfect opportunity for self discovery and growth.” She adds that the natural environment lent itself to self-reflection. “As an introvert, hiking and camping gave me the opportunity to recognize my strengths as a leader and team member,” she says. “I was able to see my quiet, compassionate leadership style as an asset.”
At 25, Delerme looks back fondly on the memory of her trip and is passionate about continuing the tradition. “It’s hard to put into words the magic that can happen on the trail,” she says. “There is an unbreakable bond that forms with your crew as you navigate the outdoors together. Being nudged outside of your comfort zone is scary and profoundly rewarding and to do that while supported by your peers is empowering and fun.”
For more information on how to become involved with Evergreen Community Charter School, contact the school directly at 828.298.2173 or email@example.com.