The phone rang around 7:30 PM this past Saturday. The number was unfamiliar, so my wife almost didn't answer. But she did because both my children are on adventures: Kate biking from Reno to San Francisco and then down the coast to Santa Barbara; Stephen hiking around the Colorado Rockies. Both go with an amazing company called Overland, who sponsor different types of programs all over the world. We've enjoyed being “kid-free” for a while.
The call was about Stephen. While on the trail, he had slipped and hit his head on a rock. He didn't show any signs of injury other than a three-quarter-inch long “jagged gash” above his eye that would require stitches. Plus they wanted him checked since it was a head injury. Adding to the challenge was that the group (2 leaders and 12 kids) was in real back country. One leader and Stephen would have to hike 2 hours just to reach their van, then drive about 1-1/2 hours to a hospital. Meanwhile we’d have to wait until they reached a spot where they could get cell service for any more word. (They had called the office on a satellite phone, which needed to stay with the group.) So my wife and I simply had to sit tight, unsure when we would hear more, and of course that took longer than we believed it would, knowing it was getting dark on the trail, worried about all the things that could go wrong on the trail, such as one of them getting badly hurt.
As we waited, my wife commented at one point, “Kids really are sacred, aren't they?” We sort of let that comment sink in. We comforted ourselves by talking about how incredible the leaders at Overland are, the great training they receive, their experience, their optimism. They, as an organization and individuals, take on an incredible responsibility. And they've suffered tragedy, such as when some teens were killed on the ride across America last year. I was struck anew by just how much trust we had placed in Overland by sending our kids on these trips. It was Kate’s third and Stephen’s second. While I was worried, I also had faith in Overland. They honor the sacred trust.
It should be no different in schools. Our relationship with children and their families should be a sacred trust, ideally one that goes both ways. Parents place incredible faith in us to do what is best for their kids, to appreciate their absolute uniqueness, to forgive their inherent and developmental foibles, to nurture them lovingly, and to challenge them appropriately. That trust is the deepest root of a partnership. During that sleepless night and since, I've found myself thinking about this quite a bit as perhaps the key of a truly great school.
We heard from Stephen and the leader as soon as they could call, then again from the hospital, then again after he’d been treated. The communication was great, and we heard again the next morning. Stephen checked out just fine, just needing a bunch of stitches. No other problems. Furthermore, he also found the positive in the situation. On the phone from the hospital he gushed that on the trail they saw a “bunch of deer and five moose.”