Since its 2009 founding year, CELC Middle School continues to provide a beginning-of-the-year adventure for students as a way to launch the year, to build and strengthen the newly formed group. By traveling away from home turf, bringing students to places where they can discover their own abilities while experiencing some independence from parents, they each have a chance to be self-reliant, all the while learning what it means to be a part of a community. 

CELC has traveled to some outstanding places for kids – favorites include KROKA Expeditions of New Hampshire and Keewaydin Environmental Education Center and Hulbert Outdoor Center, both located in Vermont. These experiences provide real opportunity for a student to realize what it means to make decisions for oneself, to take on responsibility, to gain confidence, at once considering how to take best care of oneself and others.

For some students (and parents) it is the very first time to be apart for extended travel that is not a visit to grandparents or family members. This involves a great sense of trust.  And over the many years of working with students, we are grateful to have earned that trust as we all then get to witness the beginnings of the transformative nature of CELC’s program.

A student discovers, even comes to the realization, regardless of whether any level of homesickness might have occurred along the way, that one’s community serves as the support system, that needs are met through the building of inner strength, developing relationships, being present.

In this year of 2020-2021, when life has taken a completely different turn for schools, CELC is not able to visit many of its usual locations.  Instead, we adapted and designed a plan that was like no other CELC trip but that was absolutely perfect for this particular time and occasion.

CELCers went to Frye Island, beautifully idyllic in the middle of Lake Sebago, northwest of Portland, Maine.  The island contains homes, a community center, golf course, and a fabulous establishment called Frye’s Leap Café and Grocery Store, somewhat a central hub.  This being off-season, the island has few visitors – it is quite peaceful, quiet, and serene.  Our week came with extraordinary weather: clear sunny days and the beginnings of fall foliage with crisp fall air.

CELC rented a particular house known as the “family reunion house” because of its spaciousness and creature comforts, easily enjoyed by up to twenty guests. It was quite a place for our group of eight students, three CELC staff, plus Mike, who lives on the island and who planned for much of the day and evening programming. While CELC is accustomed to and quite happy living in tents, cooking over a fire, sleeping outdoors, for these pandemic circumstances the well-appointed house with its lakeside wooded grounds provided a perfect retreat setting. Our delicious home-cooked meals were enjoyed at a long dining table that fit all twelve of us at once.

A true gift!  The time spent included sunrise journaling, morning and afternoon lake swim and play, community service project, professional tie-dye class, nature art, environmental studies, teambuilding games and activities, campfire stories, student- and staff-created/performed skits, and a challenging 4.5-mile kayak expedition, circumnavigating the entire island!  Quite an accomplishment and a first for all!

Students had a balance of free time with “classes” devoted to community building and connected to this year’s theme of Ancient to Modern Civilizations.  Gratitude Circle and appreciations occurred each day, acknowledging the joy of having this time in such a incredible place, getting to know one another and, to quote students, having this “bonding” time.

This was a truly unforgettable experience, one that gives hope and provides pause within an otherwise often difficult and sometimes overwhelming time.  Some now have under their belts the “first time away from home” and have done it quite happily and successfully.  Driving to the ferry on our final morning was bittersweet, with students feeling united as a team, happy in having this memorable and impactful life experience. The van filled with laughter and positive energy as the group shared thoughts of looking forward to getting home, while also commenting “Oh, how sad to leave.”   All this in only five days!

May the energy of our beginning-of-the-year experience be the beginning of a fabulous year together, as we continue to grow stronger and sturdier, as individuals and as a learning community – striving, thriving, a step at a time, unstoppable …

What a week  – a big HAZZAH for sure!

Stay tuned for some students writing and reflections …

~ Click on any image to view scrollable gallery

To view more photos from our adventure, click on this link to open in Dropbox.