Five decades of determination |

Five decades of determination

Aspen Middle School celebrates 50 years of eighth-grade Outdoor Education with film premiere

An eighth-grader in last year's Outdoor Education program completes the high repel at Marble base camp.
Courtesy photo |
If you go ... What: “Celebrating 50 Years of Outdoor Education”  When: Tonight, 6:15 Where: Aspen School District Theater

Editor’s note: Read more about the past, present and future of Aspen Middle School’s eighth-grade Outdoor Education program, and the Aspen School District’s entire Outdoor Ed and Experiential Ed programs, in next week’s Aspen Times Weekly, on newsstands and online Sept. 7.

Just a few minutes into the video “Celebrating 50 Years of Outdoor Education” and one thing becomes abundantly clear: Aspen Middle School’s annual eighth-grade backpacking trip is about far more than getting from point A to point B with a pack on your back.

“Essentially everything was designed to give one confidence, give students confidence — in themselves and in their peers,” said Michael Flynn, who was hired in 1968 to be involved in first Outdoor Ed program and carried on in the role for 15 years, in the film. “I will support this program no matter what because of how it helps the total educational experience.”

The 30-minute film — which premieres tonight and was produced by Adam Gilbert, who has been a patrol leader on trips over the years — takes viewers along for the entire experience, through the eyes of the students, teachers and community volunteers who make it a reality each fall.

This year, the 50th such trip will depart from Aspen Middle School next week. In all, 14 “patrols” — groups of eight students, along with a male and female patrol leader (one of whom is a certified Wilderness First Responder), assigned to certain routes — will make the trek from Aspen to Marble. They’ll spend three or four nights on the trail; and another three nights with the entire grade at base camp.

While hundreds of students have participated in the program over the years, the trips have never been documented in the same fashion as this video. Aspen Middle School principal Craig Rogers said district officials have been hesitant share a behind-the-scenes look, so as to not ruin the experience for future classes of students.

“But, in this 50th year, we wanted to share and celebrate that experience with the community,” Rogers said. “The film does a really good job of covering the entire experience.”

Among the things Rogers hopes viewers take away from the film is the way eighth-grade Outdoor Ed challenges every child differently. From some, it’s the physical demands of carrying a 40-pound backpack some 25 miles; for others, the mental side of such activities as a trust fall or high repel becomes life-changing; for many, it’s the solo, where kids spend a night alone, with just their gear, water and a tarp for shelter.

“Granted, they’re in close proximity to patrol leaders, but they then spend the night out in the backcountry on their own to reflect and to think about what’s really important to them in life, to examine who they are as people and who they potentially want to become as they continue to grow.”

Self-reflection is a sentiment shared over and over, in the film and by those who have experienced the trip first-hand.

“There’s nothing fake about the whole program,” said Gary Kreutzer, who first worked with middle school Outdoor Ed in 1983. “It’s a pretty powerful experience for a kid.

“I’d say it’s Aspen’s version of a rite of passage for a 13-year-old kid.”

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