By Aunge & Drew

We finally made it! After all the anticipation, packing, good-byes, and re-packing our TTS36 crew finally met in Bozeman – ready to rumble, with some nerves and curiosity about what’s in store for the semester. The first 24 hours together included meticulous pack checks (every item came out of each bag then went back in to make sure everything made it to the semester) followed by many get-to-know-you games, nervous giggles, and lots of information about the journey ahead.

After families departed on Friday morning, we loaded into our two 15-passenger vans and drove past rocky hillsides and dark conifers of the Gallatin Forest into the Paradise Valley where we snaked along the Yellowstone River until we reached AMB West Basecamp near Emigrant, MT. We unpacked piles of gear, food and cooking supplies, and learned how to assemble tents. To maintain distance during our pod formation, some students slept in tents while others slept in AMB West’s rustic cabins. After a hearty soup dinner, we huddled together as a group of fifteen, and with the mountains surrounding us in the twilight, it finally felt like our adventure had begun. Students spent the rest of the night writing “Letters to Self” — letters they will receive at the end of the semester, in which they were prompted to reflect on their personal “whys” for coming to TTS and what they hope to get out of the next three and a half months. 

The following days were filled with orientation activities as we continued to get to know each other and familiarize our group with the flow of the Traveling School through sessions on self-care, risk management, and school guidelines. There was even a Harry Potter Sorting Hat re-enactment for mentor group creations. On Sunday, students had their first taste of TTS academics with each class hosting a thirty-minute intro session to warm up our brains after summer adventures.

In Global Studies, Drew and Leah asked students to place themselves on a spectrum line with two options, responding to prompts such as “I have strong opinions and vocalize them quickly” versus “My opinions often take a while to form and I share them over time.” Each prompt led to short reflective questions encouraging students to see how others participate in, and perceive challenging topics, to set the foundation for this critical thinking, discussion-oriented class.

Science began with a short walk away from camp where students could glimpse the vast surrounding landscape to gain a sense of the enormity of the mountains, rivers and valleys that punctuate the horizon. Students settled into the grassy overlook while Becky set the stage – imagine this landscape 150 years ago, no airplane noise, no roads, no clear cuts visible in the distance. On the hillside across the valley, where you can still see grassy plains rolling across the landscape, bison herds would likely be roaming freely, uninhibited by a national park boundary. If you’re lucky, you might also see bears popping in and out of view, going about their daily lives, unconcerned about human interaction. A deer might even walk past you, close enough to see their breath. After this staging, students settled into observation journaling focusing in on nearby plants, trees and flowers.

After a short break, four students bounced over to Algebra 2 with Megan, where they discovered the word Algebra means the “reunion of broken parts.” With this in mind, the small class investigated patterns to explore how parts and pieces, waterways, tree limbs, lightening strikes can join to form more wholistic images. Spend a bit of time with this image to see how many patterns you can discover!

Leah opened history with three prompts: “How I feel about history as a topic. . .” How I feel about history as an academic subject. . .” and “How history has been taught in school. . .” students tacked their individual sticky note answers to each prompt and then toured the prompts. Answers ranged from “history is not my favorite subject because I am not great at memorization when I don’t have a reason or background information on the importance or significance” to “history as an academic subject is very important because history should not be repeated.”

Rounding out the academic day, Drew began to form an interactive Literature class through her short journaling prompts, inviting a few brave students to share their writing. Megan then got the blood flowing in her afternoon PE class of body weight circuits accompanied with laughter and good workout tunes.

After all these academic investigations, students returned to their community focus and how they want to form and interact in the coming weeks. Although they were only a few days into this journey, they were ready to create community expectations and created their own “constitution” of community norms, which they labelled, “The Constitution of the Hype Crew of TTS36.” They all agreed and signed these norms and then presented them to the teachers. It’s amazing to see how intentional and thoughtful these eleven gals are as we become a united community ready to explore the western US!

Monday was the day we had all been waiting for – day 4 together – during which we have been fully masked, more distanced than we wanted to be while building community and the day that we could take covid tests! As someone said, “It’s the first thing I’m excited for us all to be negative about.” Our full day of classes flew by, we did our tests, embraced the final hour of mask wearing in a game of frisbee, did one more safety test and then we peeled off the masks! Oh the shouts of joy that filled the canyon! And, the robust tent sleepers, moved into the cabins for the final nights for some warmer sleeping.

Tuesday morning we drove down the dirt road to the AMB West Challenge Course, where our three course facilitators — Whitney, Maren and Sydney — led us through the low and high ropes course challenges that pushed students to work together as a team. In one challenge, attached to ropes and harnesses, students leapt through the air to elevated “lily pad” platforms that were stabilized by their classmates with ropes below. In another challenge, each person climbed a 25-foot post, secured with their harness, helmets and ropes and daringly jumped into a free-fall before being caught by the rope and belay system. Nervous giggles and shouts rained down on the cheering squad below as we each took the challenge.

On Wednesday we departed AMB West and drove back towards Bozeman. We set up camp at a historic farm and homestead, sleeping in canvas wall tents and studying in a charming loafing shed (open faced barn) on the outskirts of town. Amazing guest speakers introduced us to the reality of our changing climate and the impact it has on the Colorado River Basin. Another speaker discussed sustainable farming and gave us a recipe for bison tacos, which we made that night, accented with onions we picked at the neighboring farm. And, just like that, our first week is in the books! As you read this, we’re likely canoeing down the Missouri River, learning how to paddle with a partner and live away from modern sounds and distractions!