“It was cold, rainy, and my shoes were so soaked at night that I had to put them by the heater to dry out!” This statement, out of context, would seem like the end to a really bad day. But for 5th grader Wes Kentch, it was a memory from one of the best experiences of his life! Wes was one of 12 NELA students and 4 NELA staff who went on an adventure of a life time to Mt. Rainier October 8-11. Even though Wes was nervous to leave home, he is so grateful for the opportunity and he even witnessed his first shooting star on the trip—a magical moment of wonder that will long be remembered by him and the staff!
The group went on a four-day, hands-on, science field trip to the Mt. Rainier Institute, a program designed to nurture young people to become environmental stewards and leaders. Guided by experts in the Park Forest, the students took on the challenges of daily hikes, exploration, and scientific research. From sun-up to sun-down, the students learned and studied in an experiential environment where they proposed and researched their own scientific question in two small groups.
Principal Dariyln Hackett was excited for the students to go on the trip because it meets several goals of Nueve Esperanza Leadership Academy—students were able to tie their academic classroom work to the real world, learn about our connection to nature, and deepen their relationships with God through His creation.
One group of students set out to answer the question about what type of tree was most hospitable to growth: living trees, nurse logs, or stags (these last two terms had to be explained to me by the students themselves). The other group of students studied what environment was most conducive for mushrooms to grow. By measuring the sizes of different trees, taking temperatures of the tree and the soil around the trees, and counting many tiny plants and fungi, the groups were both able to come to conclusive answers. Nurse logs proved to be the answer to both questions! The groups discovered the power of the nurse logs—dead trees lying on the ground—to transfer their previously stored up nutrients to new growth through the process of decomposition. The tree continues to give life long after it is no longer living itself!
The circle of life was one meaningful take-away for the students, but they also gained interpersonal skills as they worked together on research teams, learned from their instructors, and challenged each other in new and difficult circumstances. Sixth grader Eli Galaviz was a little afraid of the things the group was going to do because he doesn’t like hiking, but through the encouragement of his classmates and instructors he participated in all of the activities. “I learned I can overcome my fears! Ms. Flor encouraged me when she told me not to be scared because the person leading us wouldn’t take us to an unsafe place,” Eli said.
What a beautiful lesson Eli learned—we can do far more than we think we can with the encouragement of a friend and our eyes on a trusted leader! As we look to Jesus as an example of a trusted leader, we also can see how our growth and flourishing comes as a direct result of His death and sacrifice for us. Just as the nurse logs in their death make it possible for thousands of small plants to flourish and mushrooms to thrive, our new life comes through the sacrificial love of Christ. When we look to him as a model, we see that our sacrifices for one another are the key to our flourishing communities. As we serve by offering ourselves and our nutrients to others, we see a multiplication of life and love in our places.