When Coach Rastrick first visited Imani’s classroom to talk about Outward Bound, Imani was thrilled. She remembered thinking, “They have that program here?!” Extracurriculars, like sports teams or clubs, weren’t offered at her previous school, and Outward Bound sounded pretty exciting – like the adventures of books and movies. Being a self-described “city girl,” Imani had never ventured deep into the woods before and had always wanted to go camping. This would finally be her chance.
That Spring, Imani along with Coach Rastrick and ten other students from Lingelbach Elementary arrived at the Philadelphia Outward Bound School (POBS) to begin their 5-day Peer Leadership expedition. After duffle shuffle, when students leave the last familiar comforts of home behind and pack only the essentials, the crew traveled north to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It would be Imani’s first time in a canoe. “I almost went to Delaware!,” Imani recalled. “I was on the wrong side,” and Coach Rastrick in a nearby kayak, “showed me how to turn the canoe . . . My arms felt like they were about to fall off.”
As they paddled along the Delaware River, Imani was determined to keep going. Gradually, she learned how to work with her partner to steer the canoe, and even started to have fun. “You can be hesitant at first because you don't know what you're doing. At the same time, if you're hesitant about everything, you won't have fun.”
Setting up camp that night would also prove to be a challenge for Imani’s crew. Learning how to tie knots and pitch a tarp was not easy, especially when everyone was exhausted. Ready for bed, the girls claimed the center of the tarp. “No one wanted to sleep on the end,” Imani remembered. “Snakes and bears were out there.”
That morning it was Imani’s turn to make sure the crew was ready to leave camp on-time and get on the river. One of the ways students develop their leadership skills at Outward Bound is by taking on different roles throughout the expedition. Each day, students gain new responsibilities, like learning how to cook, navigate, and care for their crew. As new skills are mastered, students are encouraged to take turns leading the group and practice making decisions for themselves and as a crew.
When the crew was almost ready to leave Imani noticed that some of the equipment was still unpacked. A student didn’t want to carry the extra gear. Upset, Imani began to argue. “I was so frustrated. I wanted to yell at her,” Imani said, reflecting on the moment. “But you can’t really go anywhere, so you need to know how to work it out. If you're arguing nothing gets done.”
That morning became a valuable lesson for Imani that changed how she approached similar situations at home and school. “I learned how to communicate better with a group. I have a big family and everyone wants to be heard. So we’re always yelling back and forth, ‘No we’re going to cook this for dinner,’ or ‘No we’re going to have this kind of party,’ and you can’t hear anything. This also happens at school and now I know there’s a better way to go about it. The communication skills I learned at Outward Bound really helped.”
However, the biggest challenge of Imani’s Outward Bound experience awaited her at POBS’ Wissahickon ropes course on the second to last day of the expedition. After lunch, her crew prepared to climb the Goal Pole. “I was the first one to go and when I got to the top of the pole, I realized that the top part spins. It was raining and I felt like I was going to slip off. I knew I wouldn’t hurt myself because of the harness but I also had to trust my teammates to hold the rope to make sure I was secure. When I got all the way to the top I stood up and jumped off. It was so cool. I looked like Spiderman.” Quietly thinking for a moment Imani said, “That Gole Pole was really built on trust. It teaches you how to work with people and trust them and just know they have your back.”
On the last day of Imani’s expedition, before her crew would return to base and head home, there was one final component she had to complete - a Solo. Solo is a period of solitude where students typically spend a few hours up to two days alone to rest and reflect on their learnings and connect their experiences on course to their lives at home. It was by far Imani’s “best moment on Outward Bound.” During Solo, Imani wrote a letter to herself. “It gave me time to think about everything on the trip. When I wrote it all down I remember thinking, ‘I really did this?’ and feeling like I had accomplished so much. It felt good to acknowledge that. I felt really proud of myself.”
Now as a rising sophomore at Parkway Northwest High School for Social Justice, Imani’s imagined becoming an Outward Bound Instructor one day. (We hope that she will!) “When I got back to school, I’d tell people ‘Don’t waste your water’ and to ‘Stay hydrated,” Imani said, laughing. “I still have my pin. I’m so thankful for everything I learned at Outward Bound. I definitely learned a lot about myself, got closer to some friends, and even made new friends with people that I didn't even know went to my school.”