As they looked deeply, late at night, into the ocean surrounding Santa Rosa Island, the water appeared to be glowing like stars in the dark night sky.
Six Ojai Valley School seniors set sail in the second week of school as part of the inaugural outdoor education trip of the year, an outing nearly entirely run and organized by students. The group spent time swimming, snorkeling and hiking the island terrain, and late nights exploring the wonders of the ocean, which included a vivid bioluminescence bloom in the waters surrounding Santa Rosa.
“It was like holding fireballs in your hands underwater,” said senior Gabe Weisiger, adding that all of the students contributed ideas and preparation to pulling off the first trip of the year. “We made the decisions on what we wanted to do and I would say overall it was pretty successful.”
Andrew Thacher, the current ASB Outdoor Education representative, was the creator and leader of the camping trip, which had Outdoor Education Coordinator Zach Byars and Head of School Craig Floyd along as chaperones.
Andrew’s intent was to begin testing the concept of whether similar student-led trips would be possible for the upcoming school year. Overall, all of the students thought the trip to be a great success and are looking forward to many more like it.
“The goal of the Santa Rosa trip was to prove that students could survive on their own self-led trip and I would say this trip was a good step in the right direction,” Andrew said.
For senior Carson Strassman, the trip was all about being reunited with friends he had not been able to hang out with since mid-March, when the covid pandemic forced the school to shut down in-person classes and shift to virtual learning.
“It was great to see all of our friends again,” Carson said. “We saw some amazing wildlife and overall had a great time.”
There were many precautions taken in order to make this trip possible and safe for all the students to attend.
Masks were worn at all times when students were in close proximity and there were daily temperature checks just to make sure everyone was healthy.
Given the need to follow COVID-19 protocols, Andrew said, the planning and preparation behind the trip proved to be the most challenging part.
For the outing to be as safe as possible, students were unable to share gear such as tents or cooking supplies. It created a small roadblock to get over, but the OVS students were resilient and found a way to push on.
Senior Derek Mendoza felt that even with these precautions, everyone was still able to enjoy the trip.
“I think just because we had to keep our distance does not mean that we could not talk or be together,” Derek said. “It was nice to have freedom and choices on what we wanted to do and how we wanted to spend our days out there.”
If all goes as planned, the Santa Rosa trip will be the first of many this year for the OVS community.
Mr. Byars has been working closely with Andrew Thacher and other students to come up with ways to incorporate the outdoors into the online learning program, with a focus on building outdoor skills and reemphasis on utilizing the wilderness surrounding OVS to keep the program up and running.
“Ojai provides an amazing selection of activities that can be done in the outdoors,” Mr. Byars said. “For the upcoming year, the shift will be closer to home, utilizing our backyard, which will then minimize transport.”
Mr. Byars and Andrew both want to better educate and equip the OVS community to be successful in the outdoors. Mr. Byars explained that students are being asked to make a list of the outdoor skills on which they want to improve, such as reading maps, using ropes and creating shelter.
“The building of these skills would not only bring excitement and purpose to a student’s day but it would strengthen the outdoor education program,” Mr. Byars explained. “Helping build skills and confidence in students will result in more student-led trips, the opportunity to go on longer and more complex trips, as well as the opportunity for students to explore the outdoors independently or with their families.”
Even though this year’s outdoor education program is looking a little different, the first trip to Santa Rosa demonstrates that OVS is continuing its commitment to getting students involved and engaged in the outdoors.
“I am definitely looking forward to the next trips and to be back with everyone again,” Gabe said.
Staff Writer Hannah Little contributed to this story.Share