Thomas Paplawsky accredits his outdoorsy spirit to Goodwillie


Avery Jordan

Freshman Thomas Paplawsky standing in front of the freshmen Homecoming banner

When freshman Thomas Paplawsky decided to go on an ice fishing trip, he wasn’t expecting to find himself sprawled on his stomach across a layer of thin ice.

“It was on an ice fishing camping trip,” Thomas said. “There was an area where the water was warmer in the lake. The ice wasn’t as thick there. I threw a snowball over there to see how thin it actually was, and it didn’t break. My friend Jack walked over there. He was like, ‘Thomas, this ice really isn’t that thick.’ As soon as he said it wasn’t that thick, he fell straight through. He couldn’t touch, and he was paddling water. He was trying to get out, but he was going towards the middle of the lake, and the ice he was trying to climb on kept cracking. I had to spread myself out on the ice towards the shore, and then I had to grab him out and drag him as I still had to be spread out. We found an entry place and went in there to warm up, and he dried off in there.”

While Thomas was scared, as any friend would be, he kept himself under control to get his friend out of the freezing depths. 

Being outside is still a big part of my life, and I try to get outside as much as I can when I get home from school.”

— Thomas Paplawsky

Thomas accredits many life skills as he demonstrated on the ice fishing trip and incredulous experiences to his time at Goodwillie Environmental School in fifth and sixth grade. 

“I wanted to be outside more,” Thomas said, “and I heard that the teachers [at Goodwillie] were amazing. The stuff we did there was just so different from everything else, and I learned so many life skills that I wouldn’t have from Central Woodlands.”

While at Goodwillie, Thomas received the nickname “Trebeck.” It was given to him because of his love for Jeopardy! which the teachers quickly realized. He now finds his former obsession with the show a bit odd but is grateful nonetheless.

Nicknames, like Trebeck, are given at Goodwillie by the teachers. It’s a tradition that every new fifth-grader experiences. Some people are given new nicknames in sixth grade. Those nicknames can be playing off of the fifth-grade ones or be entirely new. For Thomas, it was the former. 

He became “Becky.”

While some kids might not have enjoyed that evolution, Thomas didn’t mind. His bond with his teachers made it more than bearable.

“I got a better bond with any of the teachers there than anywhere else,” Thomas said. “Mr. Moorehead—he wasn’t there to just teach you; he was there to be your friend, too.”

Thomas’ bond with his teachers impacted his time at Goodwillie for the better.

At Goodwillie, Thomas spent a surplus of time outside. He had so much time outdoors that he learned a lot more than just what his teachers taught him. Being in nature gave him time to self-reflect and learn some of his favorite things outside.

“My favorite weather is ideally 60 degrees in fall,” Thomas said. “It smells the best, there are all these leaves on the ground, and it just makes everything amazing. The temperature is where you can wear a t-shirt and sweatpants and still be comfortable, and you also wouldn’t be burning up if you wore a sweatshirt.”

Goodwillie taught Thomas millions of things about the world and himself in the world. Much of the learning was school-related, but the environment—people and nature—made it all the better, and he could never be more grateful for his two years spent there and only wishes it could’ve been more.

“Well, when I was at Goodwillie, it was just a better version of school,” Thomas said. “So, everything I did there, especially outside, just made everything in normal school a lot less fun, I guess. Being outside was part of the everyday nature there. Coming back to a normal school and not being outside every day was a big difference. Being outside is still a big part of my life, and I try to get outside as much as I can when I get home from school.”