Don’t Lose a Student

Do-Not-Lose-A-StudentIf you’ve followed this blog at all you know that I spent several years working with socially and emotionally impaired adolescents and while I found this to be a very rewarding profession it came with some stressful times. There were also several situations where at the time I thought I was making a good decision only to realize later that my thought process was a bit off.

One such time was during a wilderness camping trip. A couple of programs I worked with had a wilderness camping component. It was a way to get the kids away from their home environment, see them outside of school and work on core issues.

For most of these two and three-day wilderness trips we would select a camping area near a lake to take advantage of water activities, but one occasion we ended up camping next to a river.

This particular trip was in mid August so the weather was hot and the river water was cool, but perfect for bathing and fishing.

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On the opposite side of the river from where we set up camp was a set of small mountains that looked like they would make a very good day hike. Our side was mostly flat terrain and not very challenging. So, as lead staff I decided to take the group across the river then hike the mountains for the day. For this trip I only took students who could swim.

Now the river was only about three feet deep where I planned to cross, the current was somewhat swift, but there was good footing and these were high school students so most of them had the size to hold their footing and make the walk across.

One student, Wes, was a freshman and only about 4’ 11’ and 115 lbs. He was an athletic student, but just not that big.

We started across the river in a single file line. I led the group and Linda was the sweep (last person in a hiking group). I was about two thirds of the way across and Linda was about one quarter of the way into the river. All was going well and the students were laughing and having a pretty good time when all of a sudden Wes decided he wanted to go back a few students and hang with his best friend. As Wes turned to head back his feet slipped and he began heading down river.

The river was shallow where we were crossing, but only about 50 yards downstream it got narrow, deeper and faster.

Wes let out a little yelp as he slipped, which caught my attention. When I realized he was headed to deeper, faster water and could not get his feet back under him I vaulted myself downstream after him. I caught him about 20 yards downstream, grabbed his arm, planted my feet and was able to stop myself and help him regain his footing.

The rest of the group was about half way across the river, but I motioned Linda to take them back while I stood there holding Wes’ arm and waiting until everyone was back on shore just in case I had to grab another floater.

Everyone got back to shore safely and we found fun and productive activities to do on our side of the river. The kids interestingly enough had no issue with Wes being swept downstream and were more disappointed we didn’t get to hike the mountains on the other side.

I’ve thought back to that day several times and realize I was very luck not to have lost a student. Sometimes what appears to be a good idea isn’t.