By Aunge


Week 1 with The Traveling School is an amazing and complex time to capture in words: 14+ people (10 students, 4 faculty, 2 admin—Aunge and Jennifer—and parents) converge in a Phoenix hotel and go from strangers to family in a blink of an eye. After a quick “Hello! Yay, we’re pumped you’re here. Grab a name tag and let’s go…,” your daughters bravely stepped into TTS’ 37th community. With a teacher, they opened packs, patiently dismantling their hard work to assure all required items made it to Day 1 before re-packing it again with an additional stack of books. Then it was off to rooms for a quick change and swim test – all before dinner. By this time, I could hear laughter coming through the group, smiles perking up across the circles and conversations growing. And, before we knew it, we were piling into vans for dinner and settling into the first night. Morning sun greeted everyone as teachers presented essential orientation details and program expectations. They even completed the circle with a game of Yee-Haw to break everyone out of their comfort zones.

Fast forward through our road trip to Prescott and we arrived at our first home – a log cabin tucked between Ponderosa Pines in a quiet summer camp setting. As the teachers’ Friday night skit proved, this was an action-packed week. Each day filled to the brim with orientation activities, ranging from Finding a Sense of Place to Risk Management to Thinking About Our Personal Identity to introductory academic classes. And between it all, the group also worked to build community, finding common values and setting shared goals to form their community standards. Through incredible, collaborative and intentional sessions this group formulated a tree of community standards. And, I’ll admit (and brag on your daughters), their end product is an artistic feat.

As an honorary TTS37’er for the first week, I was consistently impressed by how much each person brings to this group. Watching Janelle, Margot and Ella engage in class discussions, offering great questions and sharing perspectives as teachers role-played a Socratic Seminar, reminded me how curious these teens are to open their textbooks and get to know this place. Grace received the first “Can-Do Academic Award” for jumping right into classes and peeking into the first literature novel (Into the Beautiful North) during free time. Margot, Bec and Bronwyn got the card games going, igniting laughter and play during free time. Bec continued facilitating games as the spokesperson for her ImPakt crew, the designated Friday night festivities crew. They settled on Salad Bowl, a hysterical version of charades that ends in a round of acting out the clues from under a sheet. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room as everyone rolled on the floor in laughter. Due to the uncontrollable laughter, it was hard to decide on a winner. Thus, they had a “moo-off” with Janelle and Bronwyn representing their teams. (I’m leaving the details of that 2-person face-off for your imagination).

Throughout the week, Max continued to proactively help her peers and teachers organize gear, food and more. For these actions, she received the first Proactive Pinecone Award. Amelia was next up for a Friday night award, earning the Solid as a Rock Award for being a good friend and generally “solid as a rock” through the first week, participating in classes, getting excited for PE, and being there for one and all. Her award comes with a task to find a new rocky pun for next week’s recipient. A self-admitted listener, Lawson was picking up fun details through her conversations during the week, everything from fast facts about plane speeds to annual vending machine injuries to Bronwyn’s mom’s favorite colors. And Flora delighted the group with stories of home and flowers as she pondered questions in class and tried out a few new games in PE.

While the week was action packed, and booked solid from breakfast to bedtime, we found moments for quiet time and reflection. Jennifer and I took the group for a short hike to Goldwater Lake. Students spread out along the banks to quietly ponder who they want to become through this experience. They set personal intentions, goals and reminders in their letters to self before sealing them up. Teachers will pass the letters back to students at the end of the semester with the guiding cue to wait until they’re home to read the letters. Although a short moment in an otherwise busy week, each person shared how powerful it is to sit in silence while surrounded by friends.

Chatting with your daughters about their teachers – Leah, Heather, Meredith and Eileen – reminded me about the power of a small TTS community. Already, your daughters feel seen, heard and respected. They love how they can ask a teacher “LITERALLY ANYTHING!!” Bec commented how she has had teachers 20+ years older who know half as much as these teachers have demonstrated during the first week. The stoke is high to learn from these role models, to listen to their stories, and go beyond the student-teacher dynamic. And, again, this was easy to see during the Harry Potter themed mentor-mentee ceremony, where a TTS sorting pot was placed over each student’s head to reveal which mentor teacher best paired with their personality. Eileen’s group proudly donned capes of black trash bags as they meandered through Friendly Pines getting to know their pod. I heard one student whisper, “Wandering around with capes shows I’m in the right group.”

“Funky-town Friday” lived up to its theme as Leah coordinated a tour through the Museum of Indigenous People with the Executive Director. The curiosity was mutual – Manuel shared that he rarely sees teenagers so enthusiastic to learn, and TTS proudly retold me his stories and the history of this area, displaying their genuine interest. Everyone hopped back in the van after the museum for a picnic and history class in the town park before enjoying a couple hours of town/laundry time complete with ice cream.

And, just like that, my time with TTS37 was over and I hit the road early Saturday morning. I’ve now returned to my screen and will vicariously share this journey alongside all of you. With the group canoeing down the Colorado River this week, I’m envisioning their first canoe packing lesson followed by river safety talks, LNT (Leave No Trace) discussions, and paddle practice. I bet there have been a few camp cook-offs for meals as well as some laughter setting up tents each night. These are the special moments where TTS’ers find new levels of friendship, community and stories as they all live in the moment, exploring their surroundings through all five senses.