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Summer Journeys: Fueling Students’ Desires to Travel

Rene Maier, Managing Editor

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Less than three months is all students have away from school to relax and enjoy the warmth. In those three months, there are a multitude of things that you are able to do and accomplish, but as you get older, your schedule in the summer tends to fill up more with jobs, sports, and even sometimes extra classes for school. Summer Journeys allows high school students to take a break and travel with friends to new places but also gives the opportunity of learning along the way. With the philosophy to educate rather than to school students, and to bring forth their natural desire to learn rather than forcing them to study said curriculum, Summer Journeys has been very successful.

David Buth, the director of Summer Journeys, had a vision to create a place that not only merged people and possibilities but a place that brings truly innovative, place-based education at the secondary level to the students of Grand Rapids. Summer Journeys and David’s main priorities are their students, giving them a place to truly succeed while learning and traveling to new places.

During the summer of 2016, 10 students, many of them attending FHC, were given the opportunity to travel with Summer Journeys for a twenty-day trip to the West Coast. Within those twenty one days the group drove all the way to California and from there traveled to numerous states to try new activities and learn about each state.

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“We took a three-week road trip to Oregon and back,” David said.  “We went to a concert at Red Rocks [Colorado], swam in the Green and Colorado Rivers [ in Utah], climbed a mountain and soaked in hot springs [in Nevada], hiked through ancient forests and soaked in more hot springs [ in California], surfed and whitewater rafted and whale-watched [ in Oregon], slept on a volcano in a dark sky park under a meteor shower [ in Idaho], watched wolves at dawn in Yellowstone and hung out in Jackson Hole [ in Wyoming].”

Although the pace was a little too overwhelming for the time they had, David has adjusted the trip to fit everyone’s needs and to make sure the energy of the group stays high.

Senior Kaitlind Hooper was one of the ten girls who went on the trip to the west coast, although she had to cut her trip short six days to come back to FHC and start training for swimming. Although she wasn’t there for the whole time, her experience was still one she will never forget.

“The overall experience that I had on the trip was fun. It was nice to be able to go out and experience new things and see other places of the country,” Kaitlind said. “It really helped to make us all step out of our comfort zone and do activities we can’t or wouldn’t necessarily do in Grand Rapids.” 

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The trip’s purpose was for this group of girls to experience new places, bond with their friends, and to also meet new people. Although many of them were already friends, there were a couple people that were from different schools but chose to go on this adventure also.

“The experience was absolutely amazing,” said Katie Clay, another FHC senior.  “I went with a group of ten girls, and although I was already close with a lot of them, I still got to meet new people and grow better relationships with them all. I got to visit beautiful places that I probably will never go to again, it was easily the trip of a lifetime.”

Organizing the adventures is what David loves. He gives groups the opportunities to personalize their trips to what works for them and where they want to go. On these trips, there are many leaders other than David, one of which is with the group for the entire time. Others rotate in for a day or for a week depending on where the group is and there is also a photographer that stays with the group for some of the trip.

Parents do not play a major role in the trip. They are included in the sign up and also planning the trip because their kids are going across the country without them, but David allows the girls to provide the most input.

“Parents tend to be very minimally involved,” David said. “There is an opportunity to help make the experience the best it can be for their child(ren), but parents tend to trust their children and the program and stay pretty hands-off. When parents do provide input, it usually helps me be a better leader and helps students get more from the experience.”

Anyone can sign up for these trips, and David has worked hard to be able to provide the experience for as many people as he could. The company was started in 2009, working with Goodwillie and Blandford students to provide further education once graduating from the program after sixth grade. Since then, the company has grown exponentially and now offers many trips all year round and now also has a Board of Directors including many high school administrators, ecologists, educators, outdoor-industry executives, counselors, and community leaders. Without the desire to travel and educate, Summer Journeys would never have lifted off the ground. David encases all of the traits that someone needs to start a business based on travel, but he does it for the kids in order to allow their desires to come true.

“Wildness and freedom [is why I started this company],” David said. “To be self-determined and have opportunities before you is a central human desire.”

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Summer Journeys: Fueling Students’ Desires to Travel