Summer work at the Steger Wilderness Center began last weekend as interns slowly trickled onto the Homestead. There was a strange quiet for the first few days of work as we prepped for summer workers, guests and festivities., but the Homestead did not remain silent for long! On Wednesday evening fifteen lively students and three instructors arrived from Face to Face Academy located in St. Paul, MN ready to take on any task asked of them. “Face to Face Academy is a 9-12 grade Charter School for students who have experienced difficulties in a traditional high school settings, are looking for a fresh start, and desire a high school diploma.” A unique aspect of the school is their Wilderness Program, which is what brought these fifteen students to the Steger Wilderness Center to explore, work, and camp for three days this past week. This program wants students to discover and experience the opportunities nature has in store for them while developing leadership and teamwork abilities in a setting that they may have never been exposed to before.
After only a few minutes of being at the Center, the students learned that life in the city is completely different from life on the Homestead. Students ignored their phones, their appearance slowly became unimportant, and they quickly realized that fast and simple solutions were not an option. On the first morning of work, the students began with positive attitudes, curious about what their day had
in store. Excitement was evident as the group split into three workstations in preparation for tree planting: loading buckets with dirt, unloading dirt, raking, and digging. The day was long, sunny and warm, but complaints from the students were rarely heard. They were dedicated to the projects they were working on, taking breaks when necessary and constantly asking questions and laughing with interns and their peers. By the end of the day everyone was exhausted, but the students still filled their evening with fishing, swimming, cooking over the fire, roasting s’mores, and telling stories.
The second day of work began faster than the first as students were feeling more comfortable in their tasks. With blisters on their fingers and sore muscles they finished the prep work for planting. The trees went in quickly as the students planted Oaks, Plums, and Maple saplings along the Roman Road. The Steger Wilderness Center provided them with a chance to become part of a greater plan. In twenty years or so, these same students will be able to return the Center and see their own trees cascading over the road bearing fruit for the picking.
The fifteen students from Face to Face Academy had the chance to experience a different environment at the Center than in the cities.
They recognized their weaknesses and gained new strengths in their abilities. From the first day to the last day, the students changed. Chana Ouray, Face to Face Academy’s Social Worker and a staff for the wilderness trip, said
“I love to see how in awe many of them are to be in the woods- to look up at the sky and see stars or see a lake that big. Their eyes are big, their faces light up, they run to grab their friends or pull the staff to say ‘Hey, look at this!’ Many of them are seeing this for the first time in the wilderness that they never find in the city.”
Around the campfire, the students made new relationships with their peers, and learned how to not only survive, but also thrive in the wilderness. By the end of their experience students were more than willing to share their thoughts about the homestead:
“To me, the Homestead means teamwork and hard effort. Compared to the cities, it is completely different; when you’re out here it is completely quiet- you get to think to yourself.”
–I’esha, 18, North Minneapolis
“Its all about getting closer to nature, and getting to know the people around without being near society and without technology. Nature has a more natural feel to it rather than interacting with people through digital means.”
– Jourdan, 20, St. Paul
“You get to get out of the city and be in nature and see what nature looks like. In the city there is not much to see- just buildings and cars. Up here you get away from everything. It is good to be able to get that experience and fall in love with nature.”
– Cecilia, 20, St. Paul
These fifteen students came from an urban setting to the Steger Wilderness Center and became open to the natural world and an entirely different lifestyle from anything they have ever experienced.