Local students cross road to higher ground with trip to Virgin Islands

Days were spent climbing rocky peaks in the tropical heat.

by Sue Austreng
Staff writer

Days were spent climbing rocky peaks in the tropical heat.

Charlene snorkels while on the Crossroads Alternative High School’s leadership challenge camping trip in the Virgin Islands. Photo courtesy of Crossroads Alternative High School

Meals were primitive and unusual.

Nights were spent fending off giant crabs – tropical crustaceans the size of dinner plates.

These challenges filled days and nights spent on the Virgin Islands when 20 Crossroads Alternative High School (CAHS) students and three of their teachers embarked on a leadership challenge camping trip there June 12 through 21.

The trip was intended to demonstrate to the students that they are capable of so much more than what anyone ever thought they could do or be.

And these kids – many of whom have been labeled at risk due to challenges they’ve already faced in their young lives (challenges like addiction and assault, dysfunction, rebellion and crime) – these kids overcame those obstacles, conquered those challenges and have risen to heights never before imagined.

“This really showed us that we can be pushed to our limit and we can do it. It makes you realize how far you can go,” said Charlene, one of the students who made the trip.

“You learn about yourself because you learn about how you react to a situation when you can’t just walk away. You learn how strong you can be,” said Angee, another CAHS leadership challenge camper.

“I just really thought I couldn’t make it, but I did – and what a great payoff. I learned you can really get a lot out of something if you work really hard,” said Breanna, another camper.

Students enrolled in CAHS’s leadership training class had to earn their way to the Virgin Islands, meeting high expectations along the way, including achieving an A average in school and near 100 percent attendance in class and being leaders to their peers behaviorally as well as academically.

“This (was) a huge opportunity for them, though hardly a vacation,”  said Marcia Nelson, Crossroads teacher and coordinator of the trip.

“They (were) physically and mentally challenged every day. They discovered the importance of planning and follow-through, attitude, outlook, relationships and teamwork. All the leadership lessons we have talked about for months come to the surface.”

Will, one of the students on the trip, talked about his experience in the Virgin Islands and beyond.

“Leadership is about change for the better,” Will said. “The reason we come to school, work hard in class, write in our journals, make good choices… is to be better people – to be leaders. That’s what it’s about.”

While on the islands, CAHS young men and women kayaked, swam, snorkeled and hiked every day.

The students made their own food and slept in tents on the beach.

The final two nights of the trip were spent in St. Thomas, staying in dorm rooms at the University of the Virgin Islands.

Staying on the university campus provided a gentle transition from the simple, primitive life the students lived while camping, and introduced them to college life – a seldom or never before imagined life for the alternative high school students.

Daniel, a CAHS student who will attend St. Cloud State University when the school year begins, described his feelings about college life.

“I’m afraid because I love my life the way it is, but I’m excited, too, because the change will be good,” he said.

Amanda, who will also be attending St. Cloud State University after graduating from CAHS, had this to say about the trip.

“The trip made me have to deal with myself. I had to be away from family and friends and it was a challenge but it was worth it,” she said.

“I’m scared about college, but excited too. This trip showed me I can do it.”

Students making the trip to the Virgin Islands paid no fees, said Nelson. All funding and equipment for the trip was donated and was offered as a reward/incentive/motivation for the leadership class the students were involved in at Crossroads, she said.

“We all win if these kids learn to live with hope and confidence,” Nelson said. “And I am watching it happen… I’m not willing to let it end here. I want this experience to transcend the walls of high school and seep into every aspect of their lives.”

“This trip was a wonderful accomplishment and an excellent predictor of great things to come for these young people,” Nelson said.

To learn more about Crossroads Alternative High School, visit www.anoka.k12.mn.us/crossroads.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

This entry was posted in ABC Newspapers. Bookmark the permalink.