Earlier this summer, the Orfalea Foundation’s 2013 REACH cohort split into three groups for a 25-day expedition into the mountains and canyons of Colorado. For many of these teenagers, it was their first wilderness experience or their first extended journey far from home.
Then, for four days in early August, REACH brought the entire cohort together for Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) training, with these ambitious goals:
- Bring the REACH 2013 Cohort together to debrief the summer wilderness experience and transition into fall programming.
- Take the three tightly knit groups that went to Colorado and get them to start thinking of themselves as a network of 40.
- Expand the program’s risk management capability by empowering students with skills to predict, prevent and respond to emergencies.
- Meet with parents to further engage them in the REACH mission.
- Bring the entire REACH Team and Interns together to establish the REACH 2013 culture.
Over the course of the four days, REACH staff organized activities and programs to achieve these goals.
The first evening’s debrief was used to discuss fears and goals for the fall. Students discussed things they want to work on and how they plan to accomplish these goals. This helped the students recognize what they had accomplished personally and as a group during their wilderness experience.
“To help students get to know others who were not in their wilderness expedition group, students were reassigned into different groupings for this training,” according to REACH Program Manager Ken Gates. “Over the course of four days, students were constantly switching rescue partners and interacting in different study groups. The intensity of the course pushed students to rely on one another. Moreover, each student had two tent partners they had never met before.”
The second night’s debrief was focused around the concept of “the web of community.” Everyone stands in a circle, and a single rope is then crisscrossed to everyone in the group creating a web. This was used as a visual representation of how each student is connected directly and indirectly to each other. The metaphor provides a common language about connectedness and teamwork, which came into play repeatedly throughout the training.
Student Yesenia Beas wasn’t sure what to expect, “but I know REACH always surprises us. I never thought I would learn such complex and important skills. I went in not feeling sure, but after a few days I became a lot more confident in myself and my skills.”
Learning about how to treat medical issues that might arise allows students to take leadership in their own risk management. REACH now has a cohort with more training than many camp counselors. By creating this common knowledge in the 2013 cohort, we expect students to start taking initiative to manage themselves and their peers on all future trips. This fall we will continue to challenge students with more medical scenarios and risk management training. Asked what he felt was most valuable about the training, student Armando Rodriguez said, “You actually get to know how to help someone. You can help in an emergency that could happen to your friend or family member.”
Parents were asked to pick up their student on the last day. They arrived 2 hours before the course was completed so they could learn about the fall, discuss the impact REACH has had on their child and also participate in a first aid scenario!
The core REACH Team met several times over 4 months to create this experience and worked together to set up and run this event. Each person had their own unique responsibility. The interns provided energy, solid work ethic and fantastic peer leadership amongst the 2013 Cohort. All in all, the August Wilderness Advanced First Aid training served as a skills- and team- building experience for both the students and the REACH instructors and interns. As Yesenia put it, “It not only prepares you for emergencies, but it helps you grow.”