Branksome students are climbing over a wall in the middle of the forest near Huntsville, Ontario. Three girls have made it to the top while another is helped up by her classmates and pulled over by others. The game—the Invisible Wall—is part of an obstacle course at Camp Tawingo, where 180 Grade 8 and 11 students are enjoying their Week Without Halls.
"Not only were you all collaborating with each other, but you had eyes out for the big picture," observed Brooke, a camp counsellor.
Week Without Halls is our annual off-campus experiential learning opportunity for Grades 7–11. A wide range of learning takes place in the outdoors while students' interpersonal skills and their appreciation for nature are deepened. It is a unique time for girls to connect and bond with their fellow students. "It's great to be with your friends in nature," says Grade 11 student Fiza. "It's more than just school in the woods."
Each grade has a different program: the Grade 7s visit the Niagara region, the Grade 9s Camp Arowhon, and the Grade 10s canoe in Algonquin Park. The Grade 8s and 11s have a unique cross-grade experience. "You get to know your whole school, not just your grade," says Grade 11 student Kierney. "Once you break through the mentality that 'I'm older and wiser than Grade 8s,' they're actually really fun to talk to!"
"This year we invited girls to 'choose their own leadership adventure'," said trip leader and our IB Diploma Program Coordinator, Alena Oosthuizen. In previous years, girls took turns being a cabin leader (in charge of a cabin of 20 Grade 8s) for a night. This year, they had more responsibility by being cabin leader for the entire week. "It's easier to get a Grade 8 to come to breakfast or brush their teeth if there's a real relationship there," says trip leader and MYP Coordinator Candace Benedet.
Chihiro in Grade 11 took this lesson to heart: "I have to respect the Grade 8s to earn their respect," she says. "It's more about getting to know each other than taking care of them." When challenges come up, she consults with the other cabin leaders and participates in workshops with the Guidance counselors on hand. "We share ideas if something goes wrong," she says. "I've also been building relationships with my own grade."
"New this year is that Grade 11 students were able to choose from a selection of roles, enabling them to understand their leadership style," says Mrs. Oosthuizen. Roles included: documentarians, who used video and photography to create a slide show; program leaders, who created evening activities, such as a Carnival and a giant game of Clue; and activity leaders, who created a lesson plan to teach Grade 8s about how to test water quality.
"It's really about allowing girls to play to their strengths," adds Mrs. Oosthuizen.
Week Without Halls is the favourite week of the year for many a Branksome girl, and with good reason. "I despise the wilderness, but I'm having so much fun," admits Fiza. What score would she give to WWH? "Five out of five," she says.