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Students at Seattle Nativity School Build Connections to Nature and Each Other on Trail

Posted by Washington Trails Association at Dec 17, 2020 05:12 PM |

Seattle Nativity School hosts annual hiking trips with students across every grade, along with a summer backpacking trip for alumni. Two former students, Layla an Christian, reflect on these outdoor experiences and what memories have really stuck with them.

By Jean Bartholomew

After their first hiking field trip 6 years ago, Seattle Nativity School students pressed their teacher Sam Bennett to go hiking again — and again and again. What had started as a one-time hike for an elective outdoor survival skills class quickly became a series of regular hikes open to the whole school.

When the hikes were opened up to all students, Sam and the other teachers immediately saw new connections across their school community. After hikes, Sam says that students from different grades would say hi to each other in the hallways, eat lunch together or play sports with each other during recess. Most students who participate go on 3 or 4 hikes each year throughout middle school. Seattle Nativity School continues to mentor students even after they graduate. Through a partnership with Big City Mountaineers, it organizes summer backpacking trips for alumni.

Layla and Cristian went hiking while they were students at Seattle Nativity School. Below, they reflect on their experiences and what memories have really stuck with them from middle school.

Layla geared up with a backpack.
Layla geared up with a backpacking pack.

What did you enjoy about going out on hikes with your school?

Layla: Because I never had any experience doing outside activities, I enjoyed simply being out in nature. It gave me a sense of calm and peace. I also enjoyed how it gave me a pause from the daily struggles of a middle schooler trying to figure things out.

Do you have a favorite story or memory from a trip that you can tell us about?

Layla: My eighth-grade year we took a backpacking trip. We all thought it sounded so fun because it was overnight — a good bonding experience and a more intense hiking experience than we were used to. However, we were not prepared for just how intense it was going to be. When we got our backpacks out of the cars, everyone was immediately questioning how we were gonna make it with this heavy weight. As we began to hike up our trail, we all whined and complained, but the adult leaders had us play little games to pass the time. In no time, the complaining was replaced with giggles and smiles, we forgot that we were carrying 20-pound backpacks, and we started to just enjoy the space together.

Cristian: My favorite memory of the school hiking trip was a very personal one. My hiking group decided that after 5 miles we would do a team exercise that involved breaking up into pairs and having a private conversation with the teacher or hiking supervisor. My conversation was a deep one but also relieved some stress that I had previously had at home. After the discussion, we all regrouped and shared what we felt about anything that was on our minds. When the group discussion ended, I knew more about my friends, but I also learned that I wasn’t the only one with problems.

Cristian holding a fish near the shore.

Do you think Seattle Nativity changed how you engage with the outdoors and nature?

Cristian: I believe Seattle Nativity changed the way I treat nature. I learned to protect the environment when I’m hiking.

No matter at what age you go backpacking or hiking for the first time, those experiences stick with you. Middle school can be tough. The time Layla and Cristian spent on trail with their Seattle Nativity School community helped them navigate their school and personal lives — skills that will serve them well as they take on high school.

Seattle Nativity

Seattle Nativity is a small “Catholic, Jesuit-endorsed science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) middle school seeking to break the cycle of poverty through an education that nourishes souls and ignites leaders for love and service.” Sam Bennett, of Seattle Nativity, took WTA’s Outdoor Leadership Training workshop in 2017 and the school has used gear from WTA’s library to support outings ever since.


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.