by Orfalea Foundation
At the REACH Wilderness First Aid Training, we noticed students from the 2012 cohort leading activities for siblings of the 2013 cohort, and we decided to learn more about the students in the REACH intern program.
According to REACH Program Manager Ken Gates, “All students in the REACH program work hard, learn a lot, and have these amazing experiences. But a deeper layer of understanding is available for students who are willing and able to commit more time and energy. As an intern, they come on trips they’ve done before as a participant, but now get to see it from the staff’s perspective. Getting to see experiential education from these different angles helps interns understand how to be better educators and students.”
Four months into the first set of six-month internships, we asked the interns a few questions.
Why did you want to become an intern with the REACH program?
According to Sydney, a senior at Santa Barbara High School, “I saw that so much of what we were doing was applicable to my life, and it was so well done I was curious about how it was done. I wanted to learn how they do these programs and be able to help, sort of in return, because they have done so much for me.” We asked Sydney what sort of things interns typically do. “For example, Ken and (Instructor) Gabby sometimes give us free rein to lead the debrief after an activity or plan an activity on our own. It’s been so interesting to see from the other side…orchestrating these activities and seeing the effect of leading a discussion or guiding an activity.”
Becky, a senior at Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria, was also curious about how REACH functions. “I wanted to see how REACH works behind the scenes, because as a student we just show up and everything’s ready to go. As an intern I’ve gotten to see how the magic happens, and it is magic sometimes… Also, I love being a REACH student and wanted to be more involved, and this seemed like a good way to step up and take more responsibility.”
Silvia, a senior at Santa Maria High School, wasn’t sure what it would mean to be an intern, but like Becky and Sydney, she was curious. “I just gave it a shot. I wanted to see their side of the program, and how they get things done and pull events together.”
Has your experience as an intern changed the way you view the REACH experience?
Sydney: “I feel like I had an idea of the work the instructors and the rest of the foundation put into the program, but now I’m in awe of the dedication and work that goes into this.”
Becky: “I also have a lot more respect for the staff. I realize how hard they work and how many hours they put in, and that everything we do has a purpose: every activity or game has some other teaching purpose that ties into the REACH curriculum. For example, a lot of the games we play have to do with LNT principles (Leave No Trace), so even though they’re fun games, they are also teaching us important things about the environment and how to be safe backpackers. Just last weekend I did the sunrise hike and got to lead the younger kids up and down the mountain. It takes a lot of time; I’m doing REACH things every weekend, but it’s so worth it. I have a better understanding of the program, and on my own events, I have insight into what the instructors are doing and what they’re going through, because there are so many little details. The first time I read the REACH handbook I was surprised at the level of details, like safety checking the van and how it all works behind the scenes.”
Silvia: “I never realized how much work they have to do behind the trips. At first, I thought all they did was call people to see how things are going, but that’s not at all what they’re doing. For example, when we did the WAFA, we were trying to make sure everything was together, getting dinner prepared for the students, making sure they were doing well personally while learning how to do knots and preparing for the next trip – I never realized how much was going on behind the scenes while I was on a trip.”
How has the REACH program surprised you during these first 18 months?
Sydney: “Well, this whole program has really been a surprise. I didn’t expect the effect. The intensity of the first event that we did – that 25 day trip – set the tone for the entire program. But then going into the education, health, community stuff – that stuff was expected, but doing what we’ve done, taking these classes and getting this support has still been surprising, because the benefits just keep coming.”
Becky: “Definitely. When I first started, I thought it was just going to be cool trips, and I wasn’t expecting the level of support we’ve been getting, like with college. I wouldn’t be getting a new laptop for college without REACH, and I wasn’t expecting all the college tours. It’s a really good surprise.”
Silvia: “I didn’t know I was going to get so much out of the program, like the SAT preparation classes and the cooking classes. I didn’t realize we’d be doing these things with professionals; I thought the REACH team would be teaching everything. And the SAT class really helped me a lot.”
Has your vision of the future changed because of the REACH program? How so?
Sydney: “It definitely has. Going into REACH, I saw myself change within the first couple of months; so many different doors opened for me. So my vision has altered to accommodate the variability of opportunities and what they can mean and what other doors they can open. It told me to be ready and expectant of the future, but to be open and take advantage of the opportunities.”
Becky: “I feel like I have more options and a better idea of what’s available. Lately I’ve been considering something in outdoor education, and before I wouldn’t have considered that a possibility. With the college tours and the financial literacy training, I feel a lot better prepared to move out and start my own life.”
Silvia: “Before REACH, I always wanted to go to college and get a PhD or do something in the medical field, but all the help and support I’m getting has made it more of a reality than a dream. Now I see all the steps I have to go through to get it. It makes me focus more and pay attention more to what I need to do to get there. It hasn’t changed my vision, but I see it more as a reality.”
Are there things you’re learning through REACH that you wish your friends were learning in school?
Sydney: “I was overwhelmed by all these specific skills that I wish my peers could experience, but lately we’ve been very focused on gratitude; taking time to appreciate and really notice the environment you’re in – to appreciated and enjoy it, to really see what’s in front of you. I wish my friends could experience this culture of really seeing what’s around you and being grateful.”
Becky: “I feel like in high school we don’t learn the same kind of practical skills we learn in REACH. For example, the financial literacy courses; we don’t have anything like that in school. We have economics, but that doesn’t really help you with finances that you’re going to be dealing with for the next few years. Also, the outdoor aspect isn’t talked about at all in school. Now I go backpacking with my friends; well, I make them go with me. There aren’t clubs or anything on campus that relate to that outdoor experience.”
Silvia: “The SAT class was so valuable, and when I brought that book to school, everyone asked where it was from, so I started a study group and I’ve shared a lot of information with my friends. I’m getting so much; I thought others in my class should get some of it too.”
Any further thoughts on the internship?
Sydney: “The internship is a very good way to expand leadership skills, so it’s really helped us become more comfortable leading groups and planning things. Being an intern has really helped in learning organizational skills, and I’d encourage any of my peers to apply for the next round. At the WAFA, we ended up making forty grilled cheese sandwiches. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was complicated and much appreciated by the students.”
Becky: “Before I wasn’t as comfortable taking on leadership roles; I took care of myself and did what I needed to do, but I didn’t take the next step – I didn’t want to feel bossy, but being in this role helped me learn that I can be a leader and how to be an effective leader. It’s made my own trips more positive because I feel more aware of what’s going on.”
Silvia: “Advice to others: be yourself when presenting to the group. Try and just be yourself and get to know the people in the group and don’t be afraid to be the leader. You’re going to be a leader within the group anyway, so just be yourself. It’s changed my leadership in cheerleading. Being captain and having to take care of these girls is like being an intern and having to lead that group, so that relates and I’m trying to lead and trying to be polite and make sure I’m aware of how others are feeling and thinking and perceiving the situation so I’m not pushy. As cheer captain I sometimes have to make demands, but with REACH I feel like I’ve learned that the students will take initiative and get things done when they understand the need, so I don’t have to be a babysitter. Now with cheer I just tell them and they live up to my expectations without any need for nagging.”
After talking to the interns, we asked Ken how the intern program benefits REACH. “The first thing that comes to mind isn’t what I expected, which is “fun.” Our interns this year have not only met our expectations of being professional and hard-working, but have brought extra energy and positivity to the trips. This sets the example that even when the work is hard, it’s not only up to you to get it done, but to have fun doing it as well. That energy is a mark of good leadership.”