It was day one of a three-day river trip at the beginning of training season at Outward Bound’s Southwest base. Hands came together to clap as “help yourself, help each other” rang out from the circle of new field staff. As they slowly moved towards the makeshift kitchen, a line formed behind the hand-wash station and dinner commenced. The group then sat in a tight circle discussing what was ahead, getting to know each other in a new environment. The evening continued until the sleeping pads were laid out in a haphazard circle and only the distant sounds of wild donkeys could be heard on the shore.
Summer season training involves assistant Instructors, new Logistics Coordinators and interns, as well as for returning staff members taking on new roles. Training includes varying lessons for all staff, some of which include education and leadership, safety and risk management and technical skills in the field. This type of training happens at every Outward School, and the goal is to prepare staff members for the busy season ahead, the arrival of students and all that they’ll learn. It also serves as a way of building community between new and returning staff members. This three-day rafting trip was only a small section of the training season in the Southwest. Over a period of two weeks, staff learned the Outward Bound way and skills needed for each position. Support staff put in the behind-the-scenes work that makes every expedition possible.
Olivia Schneider, a Logistics Coordinator said, “The start of training paralleled to how a course would start, and the tone was set within the first few hours by making the community agreement.” The goal of a community agreement is to set boundaries in the language and expectations of the group to facilitate an open and safe space. During training, the entire group copied the agreement into their notebooks after working together to create a list of things that were seen as necessary to abide by. On a course, the students are expected to do the same. It’s the first step in establishing accountability within a group—an important aspect to community life, on a basecamp and in the field.
On the rafting trip, with paddles in hand, staff pushed down the San Juan river. They stopped along the shore for training lessons, taking the necessary time to learn the ins and outs of the course area along with student management, teaching and leadership skills. It’s important to be familiar with the little pieces of daily course life that the students partake in.
“During our river trip, we were taught the acronym EGGS, which stands for essentials, group, gear, self. The concept began to embody our idea of community. Self-care first, then a larger focus on group work and the needs of others. As we stepped out of training and into our roles, the concept of EGGS stayed relevant. It stands strong through our daily lives and actions, not only at the end of our time on the river,” says Olivia Drukker, a Logistics Coordinator. EGGS is taught to staff and students alike, used primarily for arriving and setting up camp. It’s also a lesson you can carry with you for life. The idea behind it is, by first taking care of your most essential and personal needs, you’re able to contribute and support the whole in a greater capacity. Once your community’s needs are met, you then take time to refocus on yourself. This process teaches and reminds us of our need for both self and community care; service to both ourselves and others.
Just like students on a course, working as a team is what keeps basecamp running smoothly. The entire staff works as a team to launch the summer with lessons, updates and service. Each day starts with a group work task, like weeding the community garden area and improving the gravel parking lot. You can hear the humming of activity and hard-working individuals aiming towards a common goal.
Meredith Burke is a returning staff member, and last year she worked as a field staff intern but is filling a new position as a Logistics Coordinator. “I came back because of the community, I think that’s what draws a lot of people back to Outward Bound.” The community comes together, playing “get to know you” games around a set of tables, or sharing a meal during lunch. It’s what creates connection.
At the end of training, new staff receive a pin to symbolize the work they have only just started. They’re asked to share what the pin means to them. For most, it symbolizes a place of growth, being accepted by a new community. This is what we hope for all of our students. They join together for a pin ceremony at the end of their expedition, as a chance to reflect in a similar way on the community they’ve created with their crew.
About the Author
Sophie MacMillan is the media intern for the Southwest Program of the Colorado Outward Bound School. She graduated from The University of Vermont with a degree in Photojournalism. Since coming to the Southwest, she’s enjoyed exploring the incredible new environment through hiking, rafting and climbing with a film camera in hand.
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