Touring a college campus in Bar Harbor, seventh grade students glimpsed what their futures could be. On Swan’s Island, seniors reminisced about the six years they have spent together as peers while planning their futures. A few weeks later, on the same island, eighth graders learned about the history of the island and tried their hand at watercolor painting.
These trips are all part of the Mission’s Journey program. Journey provides Downeast students with six years of deep mentoring with professional staff, community members, and older peers. Each group, called a cohort, focuses on a theme or aspect of their “journey” and the trips are the capstone to this yearlong process. The trips allow time for fun and bonding but also include college visits, community service, time for reflection, and insight into what the future could hold for them.
The first trip each Journey student goes on is their seventh-grade trip to Acadia National Park. Students in their first year of Journey work on learning more about themselves and each other, focusing on their strengths. During this trip students camp in Acadia, visit the campus of College of the Atlantic, participate in a community service project in the Park, and explore Mount Desert Island. As a group, they have to learn to set up camp, cook on a campfire, and create bonds that will last them the next six years.
Eighth grade students focus on learning more about and exploring their own communities. They travel to Swan’s Island to learn more about how the community is similar and different from their own. During the trip, the group met with a local resident who lived on the island her whole life. Listening to her, they got a glimpse into what life was like in this island community. They learned to watercolor paint, and each saw the different ways they all interpreted the same scene.
In ninth grade, students identify ways to succeed throughout four years of high school. This year’s ninth grade trip was canceled but each year, the group stays at Baxter State Park and visits a local technical college. The tenth-grade trip is earlier in the spring, where they learn more about history and other cultures.
Eleventh grade focuses on pathways after high school. On the summer excursion, students visit two colleges, the University of New England and University of Southern Maine. Journey students with a 3.0 GPA or higher are granted automatic admission to the University of Maine system, so this trip offers students an opportunity to see one of the colleges they can attend. The trip also brings students to Six Flags New England for a day of fun and thrills where they can adventure on their own.
The senior trip is a retreat, and the group of students finished the Journey program this year decided to spend their last trip together on Swan’s Island, echoing an eventful trip they had as eighth graders. They reminisced about how they had grown and changed over the six years. They also started planning for their futures, learning more about budgeting, cooking simple meals they could recreate in their dorm rooms, and hearing from mentors about their post-high school choices.
Each trip allows students to learn more about themselves, their cohort, and the communities they visit. For some of the students, these trips give them their first opportunity to spend time away from home, visit a college campus, go camping, ride a roller coaster, or cook a meal for themselves. They push their boundaries, see what they are capable of, and begin to think about their futures. Which is what the Journey program is all about.