Furiously paddling through white water, completing service projects in Acadia National Park, trying out watercolors, exploring Civil War-era forts, and learning more about options after high school. Students in the Journey program did all these things this summer as they ventured across the state of Maine and throughout New England on overnight trips.
Each year, 15 students in the 7th grade at Narraguagus Jr./Sr. High School and Cherryfield Elementary School are chosen to be part of a Journey cohort and they continue with the program until they graduate from high school.
The Journey program is designed to help students develop the skills needed to successfully transition to high school and through higher education and career pathways. The program provides individual support, outdoor excursions, immersive experiences, access to professionals, college exploration opportunities, preparation workshops, and help applying for scholarships. Program Manager, Dakin Hewlett spoke on the impact of summer excursions for the teens, “The overnight trips are the culmination of a year’s worth of programming and challenge the students to step outside their comfort zones in a safe, supportive way alongside staff and peers. Trips provide students with an opportunity to explore new places outside of their own communities, learn about other cultures and natural spaces, strengthen bonds with their peers, build leadership skills, and most importantly, have fun.”
Camping in Acadia
The group of students going into 8th grade spent a weekend in Acadia National Park where they camped at Sewall Campground. There they camped and cooked hotdogs, mountain pies and smores around the campfire. During the weekend, they learned more about the Park, hiking Ship Harbor Trail with a Park Ranger and helping with a community service project with Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park. They also toured College of the Atlantic, seeing the grounds, dorms, and classrooms, and learning more about college.
On the Sunbeam to Swan’s Island
In mid-July, Cohort 4’s 8th grade students joined Mission staff on Swan’s Island for three nights. They kicked off the trip with a ride to the island aboard the Sunbeam, during which they learned about the boat and what its staff do on Maine’s outer islands.
While on Swan’s, students hiked, swam at Fine Sand Beach and toured Burnt Cove Harbor Lighthouse. They learned to paint with watercolors at Ivers Studio and received sailing lessons at Swan’s Island Yacht Club. They also participated in community service and met with Swan’s Island Historical Society. These activities teach the teens about topics and interests they may not be familiar with in their own community.
Rafting Through Millinocket
Another group of students going into high school visited Millinocket where they toured Eastern Maine Community College and Northeast Technical Institute. This part of the trip gave the students a look into two possible paths after they finish high school. They also went white water rafting and on a nature tour and learned wilderness skills.
Finding History in Boston and Maine
Cohort 2, who are going into 11th grade, has spent the year learning about history and they traveled to both Portland and Boston. They took the Amtrak Downeaster train between both cities and explored landmarks including Boston Commons and traversed the Freedom Trail.
Back in Maine, they learned the history and ecological impacts of the Desert of Maine, explored a three-mile loop that featured Civil War forts, a lighthouse and more and spent a night in Old Orchard Beach.
“It was so rewarding to see and hear the students’ excitement as they explored the campground and immediately grabbed their swimsuits, or when they stepped onto the train to Boston, some for the first time, and watched the landscape go by,” Dakin says. “From the little bursts of laughter inside the tents at night to concentration etched into their faces while journaling, the trips are as much a joy for staff as they are for students. The challenging moments are just as important as the easy ones. Journey aims to provide spaces for growth, whatever that looks like for a student, and support their goals. The fact that we can reach those goals together on an adventure makes the experience even more memorable.”
Exploring Options After High School
Another group of three students in Cohort 1 who will be graduating next spring spent their trip exploring options after high school visited Southern Maine University as well as the University of New England. They capped their trip with a visit to Six Flags.
During such trips, students not only see new places and partake in fun activities with one another. They spend quality time in a new environment and engage with their peers in a variety of circumstances. “We make students aware that –wherever they are—they are representatives for themselves, their families, their schools, and our program. It requires practicing leadership, accountability, open-mindedness, curiosity, respect, and kindness, which they do,” shared Dakin.
For instance, in nature, like Acadia National Park and on Swan’s Island, Journey students follow Leave No Trace guidelines to protect the outdoors that everyone enjoys. Journey’s summer series of overnight trips allow students to practice communication, treat others fairly, and ensure their individual and group needs are met. Of course, they are also encouraged to have fun and challenge themselves when they feel comfortable doing so!