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Thanksgiving break trips: NOLS, Arizona and the Equal Justice Initiative

Two dozen Exeter students participate in off-campus programming in California, Arizona and Alabama. 

December 21, 2016
Photo of eight Exeter students who traveled to Arizona and the desert Southwest for a weeklong trip featuring hiking and wilderness camping.

Eight students traveled to Arizona and the desert Southwest for a trip featuring hiking and wilderness camping.

For a number of Exonians, Thanksgiving break brought the chance for immersive learning opportunities outside of the classroom. During three faculty-led trips, two dozen Exeter students participated in off-campus programming that enriched their minds, strengthened their bodies, honed their leadership skills and sparked their desire to become agents of positive change.

Exonians visit the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama

Alabama and the Equal Justice Initiative

Physical Education Instructor Olutoyin Augustus and Science Instructor Michele Chapman accompanied Danielle Apple '18, Christian Flores '18, Mai Hoang '20, Sarah Newhall '20, Isadora Rivera-Janer '20 and Livaslou Tanjong '17 to Montgomery, Alabama, for a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement and a closer look at contemporary social justice issues in America. The trip was centered around a tour of significant historical sites and museums in and around Montgomery.

A highlight for many was the visit to civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. “I was inspired by how the lawyers at EJI took on the fight against mass incarceration despite a lot of setbacks,” says Rivera-Janer. “Even though the fight for equality is not easy,” she continued, “as people who believe in it, we have to keep going and fighting no matter what.”

The group also met with high school students from Booker T. Washington Magnet School; a law enforcement official from Selma; a self-proclaimed Yankee who settled in Alabama after the Civil War and Alabama’s Secretary of State. “Coming in proximity with the lives of Alabamans added a personal dynamic to this year's Montgomery trip,” says Augustus. “We shared our world with others as they shared theirs with us, allowing both sides to gain perspective & empathy.”

Motivated to share the lessons they learned with the rest of the community, the travelers are working to create a trio of events that will include presentations by outside speakers.

Read more about the origins of the Alabama trip in "Finding Voice, Taking Action," from the winter 2016 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

Arizona Rocks and Ruins

Science Instructors Townley Chisholm and Albert Leger accompanied eight students to Arizona and the desert Southwest for a week-long trip featuring hiking, wilderness camping and an exploration of the distinctive geology and natural beauty of the Grand Canyon and surrounding environs.

While there, Exonians had the opportunity to visit with Jen Gorman ’2000, who works in health care for the Navajo Nation, and they hiked into Canyon de Chelly with Navajo guides Jon and Lupita McClanahan, who shared stories about their heritage and hosted the group for an overnight visit.

Students came back brimming with details about the formation of the Grand Canyon over millions of years and the petrification process that turns wood into rock; they renewed their appreciation for the rewards of physical activity and the pleasures of simple food shared with friends; and they gained insights into the history and future of the Navajo Nation.

Grand Canyon travelers included Matt Alburn '18, Michael Bamah '18, Cristina Gonzalez '18, Stephanie Harris '20, Conor Moriarty '18, Wei Xiao "Joanna" Zhang '17 and Jessica Zhao '17.

NOLS California

In partnership with the National Outdoor Leadership School, Exeter offered ten students the chance to participate in a weeklong wilderness kayaking expedition in Tomales Bay, California, where they explored the magnificent coastline of the Point Reyes Peninsula and encountered an abundant variety of wildlife, kayaking alongside seals, a tiger shark, stingray, and a number of land and sea birds — including osprey, herons, cormorants and pelicans. From land, they also spotted raccoons, deer and Tule elk.

Organized by Sustainability Director and English Instructor Jason BreMiller, the trip was led by Director of Service Learning Liz Reyes, who taught students basic kayaking strokes and navigation and rescue skills along with the art and skills of effective leadership.

Although many were new to kayaking, Reyes says they learned quickly how to function as part of a team: “Paddles were whacking against each other and tent poles were flailing the first couple of days. But the smooth transition to setting up camp, cooking outdoors with limited resources and practicing the art of ‘leave no trace’ was impressive.”  

The experience gave students a new-found sense of perspective and a heightened sense of the need to care for the environment. "I realized the excess we live in and all the things we take for granted: plumbing, clean clothes, fresh water — luxuries that require behind-the-scenes work from people we don't acknowledge enough,” says Meghan Chou '17.

The kayakers were Bianca Beck '19, Chou, James Demopoulos '18, Grant Goodall '20, Autumn Herness '17, Brandon Liu '17, Emma Paltrow '18, Dhanat Plewtianyingthawee '19, Frieda "Luna" Schlor '17 and Ivy Tran '18.