How Students Experience Challenge as an Opportunity for Growth
For many children, Frost Valley is their first experience away from home and family, and for children who come here again and again, every time can be different. That is the case for the children who join us for their educational field trip with Rocking the Boat, a youth development organization that offers boat-based, STEM-oriented programs for high school students in the Bronx. For students in the organization’s after-school program, the trip to Frost Valley may be their first time away from the city, while those who are returning now take on a new role as leaders to the first-time participants. Alumni of the program also participate as part-time staff to help guide the younger students through all the new experiences. And of course mountains of snow like we received this year in the Catskills can mean an entirely new experience for all!
“We try to expose students to new experiences and develop connections with the natural world and each other,” says Jamie Renee Smith, Environmental Student Program Director at Rocking the Boat. “It’s a real bonding opportunity while also finding new strengths within themselves.”
Rocking the Boat is similar to Frost Valley in its focus of providing outdoor educational and recreational experiences for all children. However, the organization has a much different method of delivery. Now in its 20th year of operation, Rocking the Boat began with an idea: give children from the city the opportunity to build boats from start to finish that they would eventually row and sail on the Bronx River. “We thought, what if we did something unbelievable?” says Joe Bly, Director of Institutional Giving. “We wanted to provide boating experiences for children who may have never even seen a boat before.”
Here at Frost Valley, we definitely appreciate that type of thinking when it comes to providing children with unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Rocking the Boat is based in Hunts Point, NY – a neighborhood on the peninsula of the South Bronx. Children come to the professional grade boat shop to build traditional wooden boats from start to finish. Then, after months of hard work, they take those boats onto the Bronx River for sailing, rowing, navigation lessons, and environmental science studies. Coming to Frost Valley allows the students in Rocking the Boat’s after-school program to take what they’ve learned in the city and see it firsthand in the Catskill Mountains, which is also home to the New York City Watershed.
“We really appreciate that we can plan our curriculum ahead of time,” says Jamie who coordinates the trip’s schedule of classes with Frost Valley’s Group and Family Retreat staff. The science-based classes that students experience include watershed education, orienteering, and winter wildlife ecology. “Those address our specific goals of educating students about where our water comes from and how it’s protected by the forest, as well as broader ecological principles,” Jamie explains. “But those educational activities engage the students in other ways, like relating to each other on a personal level. Whether it’s wayfinding or getting excited about animals or exploration in a seemingly remote and disconnected area and discovering it’s actually connected to their daily lives, the hands-on experience is what has the biggest impact.”
However, Rocking the Boat – much like Frost Valley – also appreciates the importance of recreation and fun. “We love the free-choice activities,” continues Jamie. “They’re less content heavy but more focused on building confidence, trying new things like candle making, archery, and sledding. When they’re hiking and wading through a foot and a half of snow, the students emerge with new interests or a new sense of their strengths.”
Joe adds, “The population we serve go to highly under-resourced schools. They don’t go on school field trips to the mountains. Few are going with their family to the Catskills. For a large number of the participants, this could be the first time they go to a forest or a camp setting where they stay in cabins or go sledding.”
Sixty years ago, Frost Valley YMCA moved from New Jersey to this area in the Catskills to give summer campers those outdoor experiences that may be lacking in the cities and suburbs, but today many groups, including Rocking the Boat, appreciate the unique qualities of a wintertime trip. “Especially in a winter setting,” adds Jamie, “Frost Valley is a place where you can embrace what others might fear. In the city, snow might keep you inside, but at Frost Valley you just have to know what to do with it. This year we went snowshoeing and none of the students had ever done that before. It was a totally new way to experience snow and exploration.”
When the students return home, they bring with them all they learned both on a personal and educational level. Having learned about the role of the Catskill reservoirs in the New York City Watershed, students can see how the runoff from the streets in the city might impact the water in the Bronx River, which will affect the fish, and so on. After going on a snowshoe hike for the first time, students have a newfound appreciation for trying new things. “They come back with more confidence and courage,” says Jamie. “But they’re also closer to each other. They love making campfires and s’mores by the cabin together. It really bonds them and they return home as a more closely knit community.”
“For a lot of the students, the Frost Valley weekend can be really challenging,” says Jamie. “But almost all of the students say it’s their favorite trip. They express that it’s a challenge but that they grew from it. That’s the best possible outcome.”
This story originally appeared in Frost Valley’s 2017-2018 Annual Report. Find more great stories in this issue.