Today, our sixth graders were on my mind as they returned from the annual sixth-grade trip to Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing (WAEL). This overnight trip is a beloved James River tradition. Each year, James River Day School sixth graders spend three days out in nature, without internet service, phones, or computers, led by faculty and staff chaperones (John Gillum, Casey Eccles, and Jamie Moss) and the WAEL staff. They experience adventurous rides down ziplines, hike along peaceful woodland paths, and canoe through idyllic waterways. Being outdoors engages even the most restless adolescent, and they begin to interact with their surroundings and each other in new and positive ways. Students cooperatively take on team challenges, learning that each person must play a role in solving them.
WAEL is one of the most memorable and meaningful of James River student experiences, and the value of this trip is greater now than ever. As I mentioned at Back to School Night, maintaining mental wellness has come to the forefront this year as the leading challenge to education in the wake of the pandemic---even more than the academic issues we knew we might encounter. Being outdoors and sharing adventures with your classmates is good for the mind, body, and soul. The sixth graders go into these three days as individuals organized into smaller friend groups, but they return from the trip as a class with bonds cemented by shared experiences. The WAEL trip is just another answer to the question, "What is best for the child?"