During my first year of teaching, I used an analogy to introduce our class goals and pacing– our year in Biology would be like hiking a trail. Throughout the year I’d sprinkle in some photographs from hiking adventures and field biology jobs from my own past. I thought I was building interest and weaving a story; I had no idea what I was actually creating.

The author conducting under water
surveys in San Blas, Panama

About two-thirds of the way through that year, several of my students sat down with me at lunch and asked a very direct question, “When are you going to take us hiking, Mr. E?” I was caught off-guard. “What do you mean?” I replied. I don’t remember who said it, but the reasoning was this: “Well, you always talk about hiking and being outdoors… so when are you going to take us?”

By the end of that year, we organized the school’s first Hiking Club. We hiked over the George Washington Bridge, literally out of the city and into the woods. Over the next two years, we would go on monthly hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing trips. Along the way, I watched nearly-silent kids open up, begin to speak, and take leadership roles; English Language Learners find a safe activity to fill a Saturday; and female students take charge, get dirty, and break down their own stereotypes of themselves.

As the sun emerges from the clouds for the summer and I run to mountains or rivers to play, I am always reminded of my students in the Hiking Club. I’m happy I took them up on the challenge, and I am proud of them for getting out and pushing their own comfort zones. Remember to share some of your stories and adventures with students– you never know what dreams you may inspire.

Students from the hiking club
enjoy a lake along Breakneck Ridge, NY

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