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Treks, Rocks, Logs, and Spiritual Formation

February 24, 2021 by Admin


by Rodney Meadth, Middle and Upper School Principal

I’m all for nice classrooms. Really, I am. It’s great to gather together in a clean and comfortable space, with modern furniture, a big whiteboard, and maybe even some posters with an inspiring slogan or two. No doubt, good classrooms are an important part of good Christian schools. Yet, I’ve always been haunted by an epigram attributed to past U.S. president James A. Garfield. When he was asked to describe the ideal school, Garfield famously said,  “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” While I don’t know much about Mr. Hopkins, other than he was one of Garfield’s professors at Williams College, the point is well taken: an excellent education was never provided by anything else but an excellent educator, and all else is merely supplementary.

It was in this spirit that I and Mr. Scott Mitchell, Providence Middle School Bible and PE teacher, invited the sixth grade class and their teacher, Mrs. April Torres, to go out—beyond the classroom—in the company of excellent educators. There are some lessons best received in a more verdant setting, and this group set out to deliver just that.

The trek begins

The day began at the trailhead with each of the excited students receiving their provisions: a backpack, journal, trekking pole, and 3D-printed nametag. After Mr. Mitchell’s quick safety briefing (i.e., your trekking pole is not a lightsaber and you shouldn’t roll in poison oak), the expedition was underway. Behind: the idyllic comfort of the San Roque campus; ahead: sparkling streams, lush meadows, and no small amount of hard work and determination.

Within 10 minutes, Mr. Mitchell called a halt and began his first object lesson. “Pick up a rock from the ground—any rock. Put it in your backpack” he instructed. (Some of the more intuitive students sensed a metaphor coming!) And so it continued; here and there along the uphill journey, the students added more and more rocks to their load.

Pushing on with grit and resilience

In his Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education, Providence Head of School Soo Chang lists 16 attributes that describe the portrait of our ideal graduate. One of these attributes is resilience, the ability to face difficulties and challenges and dig deep to overcome them. Resilience is never learned in times of ease and comfort; rather, it is the person who has walked through trial and out the other side who learns strength, and does so with honor and integrity. In this way, the entire seven-mile hike was an analogy for the students, and a chance for them to develop that gritty attribute. I’m proud to say that each and every student pushed on through the climb and back again, rocks and all, with never a word of complaint and no suggestion of turning back. Resilience in the classroom and resilience on the trail go hand in hand, and our students show it in great measure.


Reaching the top

When the group arrived at Inspiration Point, they took in the view and broke for lunch while Mr. Mitchell continued his story. “In Scripture, God brings his people to the top of the mountain. This is where he does business with us. Take your rocks—those heavy burdens—and leave them here on the mountain top.” Mr. Mitchell encouraged the students to pray and consider the loads they might be carrying: fear, anxiety, perfectionism, doubt, and unforgiveness. In silence, they each took out their rocks and together built a cairn as a memorial of that moment.

Taking something away

After concluding this intimate moment together, Mr. Mitchell gave a final instruction: “Take one more rock from the mountain top—a different rock from the one you carried up. Look at its size, its shape, its color and texture. This rock goes back with you, as a reminder that God’s presence will always go with you.”

This is the secret Scripture reveals to us. In Philippians 4:13, we learn that resilience is not achieved by mere positive thinking and willpower, but comes from God’s Son: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Our students know they can climb every mountain before them, because of the greatness of him who strengthens them.

I’m back to my regular routine; back to the classroom with its comforts and educational tools. The sixth grade students likewise have returned to their Chromebooks, calculators, and bell schedule. But I still have a rock that sits on the shelf in my kitchen, rough and irregular with streaks of rose, reminding me of a day spent with nothing more than open skies, logs, resilient students, and excellent educators.

Read A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education by Soo Chang (2020) to learn more about how Christian education equips students and spiritually and academically to become active followers of Jesus capable of making a real difference in the world.

Visit Beyond the Classroom to learn more about adventure learning opportunities at Providence School.

For more information, contact Tawny Kilpper, admissions director (and sixth-grade hike planner) at tkilpper@providencesb.org