The Trust Factor

Melissa Stagnaro

I am dragging today. It was around 1:30 a.m. before we finally went to bed last night, but even though I was physically exhausted, I just couldn’t fall asleep. My mind was too full of everything we accomplished during the day. And believe me when I tell you these were accomplishments, not just a bit of adventure. It wasn’t just about DOING things. There was so much learning going on during those experiences, some of it prompted by the adult chaperones but much of it gleaned by the students all on their own.

I am absolutely amazed by these kids, and the transformation I have seen in them over these past few days. And each day, they have amazed me even more. It was this that kept me up last night. And considering how I feel this morning, I probably should have taken the opportunity to record my thoughts. But I’ll be honest: even my fingertips were sore. And for good reason: we spent half the day rappelling and the other half rock climbing. My delicate little fingers, used to spending their time tapping away on the computer, got a little abraded. As did the rest of me. (The extent of which I didn’t fully realize until I got in the shower.)

I was amazed by what I witnessed on those rock walls, both rappelling and climbing. And I’m not just talking about the scenery. (Which, by the way, was absolutely breathtaking.)

Both activities held an element of challenge on a personal level for many. It’s hard to stand at the edge of a cliff and take that first step in rappelling. Or leave that secure handhold in search of the next when climbing up a rock face.

Everyone tried both rappelling and climbing at least once. Whether they reached the top or not on that first attempt, didn’t temper their feeling of accomplishment. I was so proud of those who struggled on their first climb and couldn’t finish, but went on to try a second time and reach the top.

What made the difference for many was trust. They trusted their fellow participants and the guides who were belaying from below enough to put their lives in their hands. They also trusted themselves enough to know they had listened and understood the safety instructions, as well as to identify their comfort level. They also learned that, even when facing an individual challenge, it is easier to overcome your fears and reach your goals with the support and advice of others with a different perspective.

How do I know that’s what they learned? They told me. These were some of the things they shared when we gathered as a group afterwards. And it wasn’t talk. They showed how much they trusted each other with two activities, one of which was the Human Ladder, where each participant had to climb a horizontal “ladder” of wooden rungs held by their peers. I’m not going to lie. I watched this with some trepidation, but the kids didn’t even hesitate.

And let me mention once again, that these kids were not all close before this experience. Many didn’t even know each other before the program, yet here they are, not only communicating with people they have never communicated with before, but begun to value them for who they are and trust them with their personal safety.

Perhaps the most amazing thing is that these students feel a responsibility and a desire to use these connections and other things they have learned here to make their school a better place. As I type this, they are discussing how they can be “agents of change” (Kurt Edwards’ words, not mine) when they return to Norwich.