The following article was written by Khushi and Emma, students at Medford High School for their online newspaper. Enjoy! We sure did.
It was finally the day we were waiting for. Neither of us knew what was in store, but everything that happened that day was beyond what we expected. Before the hike, only one of us knew all the students in the Access High School Classroom, while the others didn’t know where the Access High School Classroom was located within the building. And certainly, we would not have gotten to know or appreciate the wonderful people there without the help of Waypoint Adventures, the CCSR, a Medford community-based organization that we are student leaders of, and Tonya Sullivan, Co-Chair of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC).
We started off our Waypoint Adventure by gathering in the Access Classroom. We wrote our names on name tags. I talked with all the students there as I knew all of them, while Emma talked to a few students to get to know them better. And the other students
outside of the Access classroom waited aside, as they were still warming up to the group. Nonetheless, the first activities started not outside, but instead, right within the classroom.
We all made a huge group circle that allowed everyone to come together and get to know one another. We went around and all said our names, grades, an activity we enjoyed doing in our free time, and a warm-up stretch (which everyone did). The fact that there was a sheet filled with
images of warmups and fun facts was greatly appreciated by everyone there, because no one likes being put on the spot.
The hike itself involved partnering up with someone that you did not previously know. But if you knew the person, it didn’t hurt to get to know them better! This was probably me and Khushi’s favorite part! My partners and I tried to find certain types of trees that the Waypoint staff challenged us to look for. One that Khushi and I specifically remember was the white pine tree, as it
had the most recognizable scent. The most difficult part was reading a map, but it was one of many life skills we all learned. At first, it was confusing, but everyone learned the tips and tricks on how to read it. When we weren’t looking at the map or talking with our partners, we were busy collecting colored leaves as one of our activities. Everyone was on the lookout for shades of red, orange, yellow, and green. If one group found a color that was not theirs but someone else’s, they did not hesitate to give it to them. In the group we were in, we were challenged to collect purple items found in nature, for example. This was quite difficult, but enjoyable as everyone was trying so hard to find purple! Towards the end of the hike, we created a mandala with all of the different colored leaves we collected. The mandala was not only beautiful to look at but was also tangible evidence of the group’s collaboration.
Throughout all of the activities, every single one of us felt a sense of belonging. The Waypoint staff encouraged the ideas of teamwork, support, and encouragement so much throughout the trip. Whether it was lending a hand when walking through a rocky section, communicating that there was slippery mud to the people behind you, or cheering each other on, everyone felt a sense of community that is uncommon to find on a day-to-day basis. This experience also allowed us to make new friends and connect over little things like shared favorite foods, colors, and topics of interest. On a more serious note, we know this allowed many of the students to break past some of the general perceptions about people with disabilities. For example, there is an inaccurate idea that one has to speak slower or more simply, but this is not true at all! No one should have to change anything about themself to fit in with others. Everyone acted as themselves, and didn’t let the other students’ ability get in the way of connecting. Instead, this allowed all the students to create friendships and understand one another, more than they ever could before.
We know that all the participants, including ourselves, might have only thought of the Waypoint activities as fun and a way to get to know new things about each other. But as we wrote this article, we realized that it taught us many life skills in disguise: understanding one
another, reading a map, learning how to communicate, being yourself, and asking for help were some of the lessons of the day. Now, whenever we see the friends we made, none of us hesitate to say hi and start talking about the day!