Eighth grade fall trip details

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Eighth grade families and students – 



I am writing to share some information and reminders about the trips we have planned for this year. As you know, every semester, teachers (and hired guides) work hard to prepare and execute our trips – both in terms of the wilderness adventure components, as well as the curriculum of each trip. Trip curricula include academic, social/emotional, and community building activities, lessons, games, conversations, and reflections that help students to enhance and process their growth, as well as tie their learning back to what is happening at school.

In eighth grade, our trips are especially focused on reflecting upon time in Middle School and looking towards the transition to high school – showcasing the outdoor skills students worked hard to learn, practicing leadership skills, and carefully considering what the students want out of their eighth grade year. This fall, we’ll focus on setting the stage for a great eighth grade year, and in the spring, we’ll spend some time developing closure for the Middle School experience.

Risk management is a critical component of wilderness trips, and we are constantly evaluating and building up our outdoor program.  I recently attended a Risk Management workshop put on by NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School), and came away very proud of the program we’ve built, but also with great ideas for how to continue building upon what we have in place.  My work there fed directly into the ongoing development of our program, and I have immense confidence and faith in all our staff – particularly their ability to monitor and care for our students and make good decisions about how to handle any issues that arise.

Our trip staff always has the health and well-being of our students in mind. All of the adults on each trip have current first aid and CPR certifications, and hired guides and several Westside School staff also have Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certification.  When we participate in activities requiring additional expertise (e.g., rock climbing, river rafting, and sea kayaking), we hire outside organizations to guide and support us. In addition, all trips carry well-equipped first aid kits, and when in the backcountry we take satellite communication devices with us.  While accidents and illnesses can and do happen on wilderness adventures, we do our very best to appropriately manage the risks of each trip by working with highly experienced guides, educating and empowering students to make responsible choices, and being well-prepared in terms of both equipment and training.

Below you will find the gear list for the eighth grade fall trip.

Please note it is NOT necessary to purchase all new gear for your child – many items can be borrowed, rented, and bought discounted or second hand. In addition, all students are welcome to utilize our “Middle School Gear Closet.” Feel free to ask for specifics on what we have to lend, as well as for assistance or recommendations (and of course, new donations are always welcome!) Any family unable to obtain the necessary gear for school trips will be provided with suitable equipment by the school. Please contact me with any questions (sarahhs@westsideschool.org.)

Trips are a vital part of the Westside School Middle School experience, and as such, we ask families take trip dates into account when planning student absences from school.

A few important reminders:

  • Please be sure to turn in your child’s medical forms (in particular, the Medication Administration Form) no later than the August 22 due date
  • Students are asked to bring their complete, packed bags in to school on the Wednesday before their trip departs
  • Students must bring a sack lunch for the first day of each trip
  • Parents are asked to drop off their child’s medications (in original containers) with a designated trip leader prior to the trip (trip-specific details will be sent out prior to each trip)

Eighth grade trip dates, 2014 – 2015

  • Monday – Friday, 8 – 12: San Juan Islands Sea Kayaking
    The eighth grade will spend the week kayaking in the San Juan Islands. We’ll begin and end the week with team building and high ropes challenges at Camp Orkila, and spend Tues – Thurs sea kayaking from camp to nearby islands. We will build on our existing outdoor skills as well as learn to navigate on water, gain kayaking expertise, prepare our meals, and set up a new camp every night. Our shared adventures also facilitates community building, individual challenge and growth, and new sights around every bend. It will be an exciting launch for a great eighth grade year!

    • Note: In order to participate in the kayak portion of this trip, all students must be able to pass the “flip test” in the bay at Camp Orkila. The flip test involves flipping the kayak over (we use double kayaks for this trip), removing your spray skirt while holding your breath, then pushing yourself out of the kayak and up to the surface. All kayakers wear life jackets at all times, and during the flip test are within arm’s reach of two kayak guides who support and monitor each flip test. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me for more information. If you’re nervous about the test, a great way to prepare is to spend some time getting comfortable in the water this summer!
  • Spring 2015: World Language Trips
  • May 4 – 8: Mt. St. Helens Adventure & eighth grade retreat
    On this capstone eighth grade adventure, the week will be broken into two parts: (1) the first half of the week adventuring and exploring at Mt. St. Helens (utilizing the scientific knowledge and outdoor skills we’ve gained throughout middle school to take on the Survival Challenge – details to be shared later), and (2) the second half of the week focused on looking backwards at middle school and forwards to high school – a time for reflecting, sharing, and enjoying one another’s company at Anderson Lodge, just south of Mt. St. Helens.

We’re looking forward to a year full of great adventures!

 I will be in touch again in early August with more details about the fall trip. In the meantime, please feel free to get in touch about any questions or concerns you may have.

Sarah Harper-Smith

Middle School Outdoor Program Coordinator (sarahhs@westsideschool.org) & the Middle School Team

Eighth grade fall trip gear list

~~~ Please make sure everything is labeled with your name! ~~~

Important: Waterproof dry bags for storing gear while kayaking will be provided by our guides, but it would be a good idea to pack clothes compactly into ziploc bags to help you keep organized more easily.

Synthetic materials vs. Cotton: Synthetics are man-made materials that wick moisture, like sweat or rain, away from your body and keep you warm and dry; wool has the same properties. Cotton is not a good fabric for the outdoors because when it gets wet, it takes a very long time to dry, and it can’t keep you warm while it is wet. On this kayaking trip especially, you should try wear synthetic (fleece, capilene, nylon, and polypropylene, 100% polyester…) or wool clothes throughout.


  • Unders (comfortable for climbing and hiking in, sports bras recommended if needed)
  • 2-3 pair socks
  • 1 pair synthetic long underwear bottoms
  • 1 synthetic long underwear tops
  • 1 pair synthetic shorts (athletic shorts work well)
  • 1-2 pairs pants (quick-drying with room for long underwear underneath)
  • 2-3 short sleeve synthetic shirts
  • Bathing suit (athletic style)
  • 1 fleece jacket or wool sweater
  • Waterproof rain coat and rain pants (vinyl/rubber ones ok, lightweight is preferable)
  • Land shoes (sneakers or hiking boots for wearing around camp, ropes course, etc.)
  • Water shoes or sandals (must be firmly attached to your feet – no slip-ons)
  • Bandana
  • Synthetic gloves and hat (warm)
  • Sunglasses & hat (baseball cap or sun hat)


  • Daypack (i.e., school backpack – packed with lunch, water bottle, etc. for the first day)
  • Backpacking backpack or duffle bag for clothing, gear, etc.
  • Mess kit (sandwich-sized Tupperware container w/lid + fork, knife, spoon)
  • Two one-liter water bottles (reusable plastic or metal bottles – may bring hydration pack as extra)
  • Sleeping pad (foam or thermarest style)
  • Sleeping bag (synthetic mummy bag, rated to ~20°F)
  • Headlamp or flashlight (w/new batteries)
  • Optional: Mug for hot drinks (plastic)
  • Optional: Camera
  • Optional: Watch 


  • Basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc)
  • If required: Daily and/or emergency medications (amount needed for trip, turned in to WS trip staff before leaving school)
  • Optional: Book, journal, and/or sketchbook


  • Electronics, including cell phones
    (other than camera & watch)
  • Knives (other than plastic knife for eating)
  • Full-size pillows (travel pillows are ok)
  • Candy stashes (random searches conducted by local raccoons, ravens, and/or bears)