Pocatello Community Charter School teaches leadership through backpacking trip

By Sarah Glenn

POCATELLO –– Eighth grade arrives for most Idaho children with a flurry of nerves and new beginnings. For some at Pocatello Community Charter School, however, the eighth grade begins with a five-day whitewater rafting and backpacking trip.

“Throughout the trip they go through some pretty intensive leadership training,” said PCCS dean Michael Mendive.

The Summit Advanced Leadership Training program is offered at the beginning of every school year to a select group of incoming eighth-graders who apply for the advanced leadership training course. Through the first week of school 11 students (or about one quarter of PCCS’s eighth grade class) venture into the Yellowstone wilderness.

The first day involves rafting down the Alpine Stretch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On average, this stretch promises class 2 and 3 rapids.

“One of the enduring philosophies at our school is that we are crew not passengers,” Mendive said.

After rafting the stretch once for practice with a guide, the eighth graders are then asked to assume leadership roles and pick up their own paddles to navigate safely through the rapids.

“It gives kids the idea that you have to work together to get through tough things,” Mendive said.

The following four days are filled with backpacking, leadership activities and finally reflecting on their own growth.

“When they return they are expected to serve on the student council, participate with Leadership Pocatello (a civic minded organization sponsored by the Pocatello-Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce) and participate in the school’s public relations sub committee,” Mendive said of the returning eighth graders.

Those who do not participate in the course are also expected to spend time during their school year camping, skiing and rock climbing – all starting in kindergarten.

PCCS does not have a physical education teacher, rather they employ a full-time adventure coordinator who organizes the outings.

The philosophy behind the outdoor adventure-based curriculum comes from influential German educator Kurt Hahn. Hahn’s educational philosophy was based on respect for adolescents, whom he believed to possess an innate decency and moral sense, but who were, he believed, corrupted by society as they aged. He believed that education could prevent this corruption, if students were given opportunities for personal leadership and to see the results of their own actions. This is one reason for the focus on outdoor adventure in his philosophy.

“It is considered part of our charter to provide these experiences,” Mendive said. “A big part of that charter is building leadership and character building. Through these experiences, the students are able to accomplish things that they would have previously thought impossible.”

This year’s trip will begin Aug. 29.

Leave a Reply