Karen* is a 15-year-old girl who lives with her parents and younger sister on the East side. Karen had attended a larger mainstream school for a number of years, but felt anxious about the class size, the number of room changes in a day, the bullying in the halls (especially from girls), and the lack of 1:1 support from teachers who had big classes and little time for individual attention. As her anxiety grew, Karen attended less, and began to perform poorly academically. Her self-esteem began to plummet, and she eventually failed out of some classes. At this point, her family began looking for an alternative that would better suit her needs.
Karen joined the new grade 10 class several weeks late, and was thrown into preparations for the first extended field trip right away. She was anxious and not very confident, and complained incessantly about the whole process, from balking at wearing "ugly" outdoor clothes, to having to do her own shopping and food preparation. On the trip, she isolated herself from her tent and cooking group, and spent a lot of her time alone and crying, largely unwilling to communicate with staff or students.
She has scoliosis, and chose to use this as an excuse to avoid many of the chores and tasks of the trip, such as paddling, loading the canoes, or tying down the boats. She took prescription pain medication and ibuprofen throughout the trip.
Karen was clearly one of the weakest students on the trip, in terms of emotional, physical, and psychological resources. The trip raised concerns as to whether she was the right fit for the program. Yet the Take a Hike staff continued to support her vigorously in various ways, exploring her strengths, fears, hopes, and setting some practical, achievable goals.
Several weeks later, she arrived for a trip on time, fully prepared, and she kept up with the hike, although she was last all day. With this success under her belt, she began to push herself, and to take on small challenges, such as talking to other students, running an extra lap, and carrying a very light pack. She also began asking staff questions about how to strengthen her back. Soon, she was stretching, swimming and weight training on a regular basis, and began to eat the fruit and vegetables in the meal program, instead of heading for McDonald's.
Her confidence grew, and she began to form strong friendships with classmates, and to model organization, preparedness and teamwork. She amazed everyone when she played hockey, even though she was the only girl on the ice! (In subsequent games, other girls began to play).
In February, the class did a "conditioning" hike in preparation for the extended winter trip. Every student carried a pack of minimum 25 lbs on a steep route similar to the Grouse grind. Karen was in the lead the whole time, except for when she backtracked to help out a weaker student on a particularly steep spot. As they completed the day, she enthused "I carried my own pack the whole way! And I haven't taken any painkillers yet today-it's so cool-I never thought I could do this kind of stuff."
Once a needy, weak, lonely young lady who lived with constant pain, Karen* is now a resourceful, self-reliant leader who pushes new limits every day.
Karen*, grade 10 student