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A Rite of Passage to Open the School Year

A rite of passage is a ceremony and marks the transition from one phase of life to another. In essence, it is both a tradition and a transformation.

How appropriate then, that our Upper School students, have participated for decades in an annual rite of passage at the beginning of each school year – they come back to school, only to be whisked away a day or two later on a series of class bonding field trips.
If you are entering the Peck Upper School as a new fifth grade student, you get an afternoon break from class during the first week at school to visit Lewis Morris County Park. After a relaxing picnic lunch, you participate in energetic whole class physical and mental challenges, and then try your hand at individual outdoor challenge stations. “Through trial and error, students learn to listen to one another, think outside the box, fail, and maybe succeed,” explained Liz Muller, a faculty advisor on the trip.

As a new sixth grade student, you step a little further outside your comfort zone and travel to Fairview Lake YMCA Camps for an overnight outdoor education experience. Daytime group activities include learning new outdoor skills, such as archery and boating, and participating in a challenging high ropes course. Mealtime, playing music around the campfire, and an overnight stay in rustic cabins with your classmates create new bonds and memories for the coming year together as a class.

As you enter the seventh grade, and grow in maturity, you spend an overnight trip with classmates visiting the Princeton-Blairstown Center. Your social, emotional, and leadership skills are fostered through small group and team building challenges. Competing in groups of three, you vie to build the strongest and most enduring fire with very little instruction and limited materials. Afterwards, you roast marshmallows with your classmates and faculty advisors. The highlight of day two is a high ropes course that you can only complete with good communication and the cooperation of your partner. “The positivity and flexibility of the students made this trip run very well. Many tried the ropes course for the first time and dug deep to overcome some fear and anxiety regarding heights and standing on unstable surfaces. It's hard to do that at any age, let alone at 12 or 13,” reported faculty advisor Virginia Savage.

But the highly anticipated signature experience at the start of your eighth grade year at The Peck School is a three-day, two-night adventure to Project U.S.E. in the Wildcat Mountain Wilderness Center. “This is an opportunity for our oldest students to get to know each other and themselves in a new context. We give them a great deal of independence on the trip while we create scenarios that require them to depend on each other,” explained Dave Carlo, faculty advisor and Head of the Athletic Department.

Students work in small groups with an outdoor education facilitator to learn essential skills, such as navigation, camping, first aid, cooking, raft construction, and fire building. They then work as a community to live self-sufficiently for three days, sleeping in tents, with no indoor plumbing and electricity.

The long term value and impact of Peck’s opening week field trips is best described by Head of Upper School Daisy Savage. As she explained in her back to school welcome letter to parents, “Your children came to view their peers in totally different lights, to understand that the best goal-setting and problem-solving came from listening to many voices, and that friends known since kindergarten had hidden talents and untapped courage. The organized challenges and cooperative games promoted an atmosphere of trust, support, compassion, and patience, and we watched as leadership emerged from unlikely places and in unusual shapes!”


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