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The following post was written by newMedia instructor Lindsay Clark as an introduction to our upcoming senior trip in Kenya and Tanzania, where our 12th grade students and a handful of staff and faculty members will attempt to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The journey our grade 12s have been on for the last two to four years has been impressive in magnitude, mercurial in tone, and expansive in breadth. Little moments of reflection always produce this realization; a quick moment of perspective for the students themselves as well as those of us who have been running alongside them at different legs of said journey.
“Our lives are weird! That’s what TGS is all about! We go to the craziest school!”
Pema’s advice of living in the now can often save us from sending our brains into a tizzy and collapsing on the floor, purely from trying to process TGS as an era of our lives.
It was clear from the birth of the senior trip that the meaningful symbolism would know no end. Traveling as a group to their final habitable continent…heading back to the cradle of humanity…climbing the world’s largest free-standing mountain…when will we max out on metaphors during this trip?! Probably never.
As a participant on the trip, I am very much looking forward to seeing what the seniors will reap in terms of meaning for themselves. It is my hope that they find great purpose in the process of moving through Kenya and Tanzania, and emerge from their TGS experience feeling supported, inspired and that the best is yet to come.
Also, as a participant of the trip, I am quite nervous about my own physical and mental ability to reach the summit of such a massive mountain. I’m not even going to be coming from IB exams and the landmark of my own graduation! I can only try to imagine where the seniors’ minds will be at that stage.
To train for such a climb is absolutely necessary for both teachers and students. And to be realistic about that training, within the context of IB exams and graduation, will set everyone up for success.
Due to the less rigorous nature of the climb, taking on the Marangu route will hopefully present a more accessible challenge to our students. This route actually has a lower success rate due to travelers often assuming that the “easier” route on this “easier” mountain will be no sweat. They don’t train well or take it seriously, and they don’t set themselves up for success.
Also, climbing at high altitudes is very different than at low altitude, as greater care must be taken to make a slow ascent in order to acclimatize. We will be exposing the seniors to many resources and talks about high altitude climbing that will support an understanding of climbing techniques that work (so they don’t end up sprinting to sickness).
Our Training Program
I met with the seniors on Sunday at a riverside park under the cherry blossoms and asked them what they know about Kilimanjaro. Thankfully, some had done a little research:
“It’s 5,895 meters tall!” “It’s the world’s largest free-standing mountain! ” “It’s in Tanzania!”
This starter question provoked a look on the students’ faces that I immediately recognized as enthusiastic. It was apparent all our seniors are well aware of how extraordinary this opportunity is, and that it is a clear metaphor for their TGS experience.
Our seniors are determined to climb that mountain and to climb it together.
Adam, our Physical Education teacher and guru of all things active, has helped develop a training program for climbers that is realistic with our schedules and secured by built-in support systems to make sure the training actually happens.
- Students will be given very simple expectations each week for training sessions.
- These workouts will be a mix of different activities or lengths.
- Students have all the flexibility and responsibility to work those into their schedules where they fit.
- Every student can scale the workout to meet their current physical ability.
This week’s training expectation is:
- At least 3X this week
- Two shorter workouts, one longer one
In order to hold everyone accountable to the program and to be prepared as a whole for this amazing challenge, students and staff are all assigned a group of three that works as their “accountability team” or A-team 😉 These work in the same way as advisories at TGS. While everyone hopes for and supports the success of the others in the entire group, these smaller groups are better able to check in with each other and make sure everyone can manage to coordinate their studies and their training.
This accountability applies both on and off the mountain. We are helping each other reach our common goal.
Students and staff are tracking their training progress on a shared Google Sheet, which also provides them with many different ideas for sessions. For example, ResLIFE and various student clubs facilitate group workouts, like running, interval training, and yoga. There are also options such as one-song workouts that any student can do in between study sessions. Anyone can propose a training session to engage multiple people, and if someone wants to train by themselves the whole way through, they can.
Unifying with a common goal:
During the Sunday gathering, I also asked the students:
What are you climbing for?
While everyone will have their own personal motivation for such a challenge, the students also agreed they wanted to be united in their purpose for getting to the top. This is something they will be thinking about before reconvening in the coming weeks.
What’s to come
The seniors will be meeting weekly in order to spend time together and to continue wrapping their heads around the challenges heading their way in April, May and June. There has been talk of the seniors doing a group hike up a nearby hill, affectionately known at TGS as “Temple Run.” A session on high altitude sickness, facilitated by English teacher Garrett Austen, is also coming up. Finally, in doing some research on Kilimanjaro, I came across a short film on porters of the mountain, which will be another topic of conversation aimed at making us informed travelers.
It’s not all about the mountain, though. Meeting weekly allows the students to reflect slowly on the experience to date and where they are headed next. I am so happy to see the students embracing this idea of gaining closure by spending time reflecting both individually and as a class. I think through this preparation our seniors will go into their IB exams balanced, move into graduation with a sense of accomplishment, and head over to Africa with some peace of mind about their future beyond TGS.
I hope this provided some insight into how our students are physically and mentally preparing for their upcoming transition out of TGS, by way of Africa’s tallest mountain. If you have any questions or comments, please comment below!