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Survivor: Boston Harbor

Postcard from Boston Harbor

By Jessica R. Rubin-wills

BOSTON HARBOR—“Except for the whole thunder and lightning part, this camping trip was really fun,” one of my eighth grade students at Summerbridge Cambridge said to me cheerfully, without a touch of irony in her voice.

I looked at her a bit incredulously, wondering how she had managed to narrow it down to only one “except.”

We had finally arrived on Lovell’s Island in Boston Harbor the previous day after taking a bus, three subway lines, and two ferry rides—not to mention waiting for over an hour at Long Wharf in Boston after we had missed the first ferry we were supposed to take. At each leg of the journey, we had to stop and carry all the tents, backpacks, sleeping bags and food we needed for 15 middle schoolers and seven staff members.

The moment we arrived on the island it started to pour, and we had to scrap all the meaningful and rewarding team-building activities we had planned as we waited under a wooden shelter by the dock for the rain to subside.

Our dinner came several hours late and consisted of sandwiches made of cold cuts, since we couldn’t manage to light the charcoal to grill the hamburgers.

We built our evening campfire a little too close to the ocean, and just as we finished the last bites of our s’mores a passing boat sent a large wave that extinguished our fire in a hissing mass of smoke.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, we were awakened at 4:30 a.m. to find our tents shaking in the middle of a powerful thunderstorm, water pouring in through the leaks and soaking all of our belongings—and the male students trapped under their tent, which had collapsed in the wind and driving rain.

But even though no one had gone back to sleep since the early morning downpour, and even though my socks were still soaking wet, and even though all we had left was bagels to get us through another two ferry rides, three train rides, and a bus ride back—I had to admit that this student was right.

Our ill-fated camping trip, with all its drama and discomfort, was indeed really fun.

As my fellow staff members and I crawled into the girls’ tent to cheer them up and try to find them slightly drier clothes, and listened to the boys recount the tale of the heroic escape from their collapsed tent, we were experiencing the positive energy that pervades the Summerbridge community.

Summerbridge Cambridge is part of a national organization called the Breakthrough Collaborative that brings middle school students together with high school and college-aged teachers for a tuition-free summer academic program and year-round support.

After spending three summers working at Summerbridge during high school, I thought I was prepared for the demands of the job when I returned to work there this summer. The students are on site every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the teachers come earlier and work much later to prepare for the following day. Staff members plan and teach challenging yet creative academic courses and stay in close contact with individual students and their families. We cheer for students as they walk off the buses every morning, sing crazy songs in the cafeteria during lunch and dance onstage in front of the students during Community Meeting wearing mismatched costumes.

But nothing in my job description ever mentioned anything about early morning downpours, collapsed tents or ocean-drenched campfires.

And yet when I think back on my six weeks with the students at Summerbridge, I will remember the moment when I was awakened to the rain pouring on my head as one of the defining moments of my summer.

The staff members pushed aside thoughts of their own wet clothes and lack of sleep to turn their attention to the students.

And the students rose to the occasion.

When we went to visit the girls, expecting to find a damp, miserable and cranky group, we were instead greeted by students sharing their sweatshirts with those who were cold and excitedly recounting what they remembered learning in school about Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with lightning.

When we offered our sympathies to the tent-less boys, they informed us proudly that they now had a story to tell everyone back home—a story that seemed to get increasingly hair-raising the more times we heard them tell it.

And though our morning began at a time when many college students have yet to go to sleep during the school year, we all passed the time together walking around the beach, skipping stones on the ocean surface and finally getting that charcoal to light.

After seeing the way our eighth grade students and staff made the most of the camping trip where everything went wrong, I found myself filled with an appreciation for the powerful connections that can be made when a group decides not to let a few rain drops—or maybe even a downpour—get in the way of a chance to bond.

I also found myself filled with a renewed appreciation for dry socks.

Jessica R. Rubin-Wills ’06, a history concentrator in Quincy House, is a news editor of The Crimson. Although she has yet to fulfill her Quantitative Reasoning requirement, she is spending the summer teaching fractions and integers to eighth graders and preparing to audition for the next season of “Survivor.”

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