When I was a teacher four faculty members including myself would take the eighth grade class on a week long trip to South Dakota. We would leave on a coach bus around midnight on Saturday and return the following Friday afternoon. With all the stops (and let me tell you, with 50-60 Middle Schools kids we definitely took our fair share of stops) from Milwaukee to Badlands National Park in South Dakota it took about fifteen hours.
For the majority of the students this was their first time they were away from their families for an extended period of time. Most of them adjusted just fine and were actually thrilled to be away from their homes, and especially from school, for a whole week. The trip was an outdoor trip with four nights of camping, along with hiking and exploring the area almost every day. The goal of the trip was to bring the class closer together and to build a bond as a new school year kicked off. There were many team building activities and games, along with nightly worship and devotions. For the most part, the goal of the trip was attained and each school year always seemed to be a good one.
Being with eighth graders for a week brought forth plenty of hysterical moments that took place, along with lots of other good memories. Every morning I would try to be the first one up so that I could hike to the top of a cliff overlooking our campsite, watching the sun come up. Every trip we would go to Mt. Rushmore at night, watching a presentation on the building of it, and honoring all the war vets in attendance. It’s a beautiful scene at night with all the lights shining on the monument and the students were mesmerized by it all.
One year we found a student sleep walking as she tried to enter through the side of the tent of the male chaperones, thinking it was hers. Talking to a sleep walker can be quite hysterical, but at the same time could be scary, considering we were in the middle of nowhere, and if a student actually wandered off, who knows where they might end up. We were able to quickly get this girl back to her appropriate tent, but it was fun to talk about for days afterwards.
At Custer State Park, buffalo freely roamed. Before setting up camp, we would always ask for volunteers before telling them what we needed them to do. Once we got the volunteers, we told them they were in charge of cleaning up the buffalo dung that was splattered everywhere throughout the campsite. Of course, some of the students groaned and moaned about volunteering, but it was incredible to watch the positive attitudes some had in doing this task. Those were usually the ones at the end of the school year who were the student leaders, encouragers, and uplifters.
One year, the male chaperones decided to dress up in Halloween costumes, and hike up Harney Peak, which is the highest elevated spot in South Dakota. The kids thought we were crazy. And maybe we were just a little bit. HA! But we did it and took pictures to prove it!
And I’ll never forget sleeping under the stars with just a sleeping bag and pad and no tent. The temps usually got down into the 30’s and 40’s at night, but bundling up in a warm sleeping bag, falling asleep while looking up at the stars and constellations was breathtaking.
I chaperoned these trips for three years. Lots of memories were made for both the leaders and students, along with many unforgettable stories. Every trip was different in some sort of way, not by what activities we did, but by what students were on the trips. Middle School students are so unpredictable. They can catch you off guard by what they say, do, and think. But God loves each of them the same. I was in charge of the devotions the first night we camped in the Badlands. The group gathered at dusk among the crazy yet beautiful rocks, dirt, clay and mud formations all around us that seem to shoot straight out of the ground (thus calling this place the Badlands). My devotion was on the love that God has and always will have for us. It was great for the students to experience firsthand the love God has for us by what He created. It was also definitely a night that got their attention and was impactful for many on what is yet to come.
As I explained to the students, it’s good for us to remember that God created the Badlands….and they are beautiful in their own way. God created each one of us…..and we are beautiful in our own ways. And there will come times in our lives where we will feel like we are living in Bad Lands for we will all have bad times at some point, and yet God is there, watching us, caring for us, and if we would just stop and look up, we can see the beauty that is around us, no matter what times we are going through. He is there, He is faithful, and He is in the middle of it all.