The following story was written by one of my husband’s former Bowdoin College students who has worked with elementary school kids teaching ecology and a love for the outdoors by taking students to the forest, tide pools, salt marshes and beaches:

One of my favorite stories involves a ten-year-old boy, Philip, who was fairly wheelchair-bound because of cerebral palsy.  Philip could use a walker, but after about five to ten minutes he would be tired and have to switch to his wheelchair. A lot of the trails we went on weren't exactly friendly for walkers or wheelchairs, so I spent a lot of time holding on to Philip's hands acting as a human walker as we went up and down stairs, over roots, across streams, and through mud while someone else carried his wheelchair.  He couldn't communicate very well, but I was amazed by his curiosity, trust, and sense of humor. 

On our last evening, I did a night hike, taking my students out into the forest without any flashlights or headlamps.  Our group walked an old gravel road that curled up the side of a hill.  I had a couple of high school students helping me out, so one pushed the wheelchair while the other carried the walker.  Philip's teacher was there to help, too. Their hard work paid off toward the end of the night hike when it came time for the lone walk. Each student walked by themselves, one at a time, from the cabin leader to the naturalist (me), 50-200 yards down the trail.  The lone walk is required of most students, but we weren't so sure about Philip.  We talked to him for a while, and he assured us, in his own way, that he wanted to try. 

Philip was the third or fourth student to do his lone walk.  The cabin leaders helped him out of his wheelchair and got him set up with his walker.  He shuffled forward about five steps, then looked back and scooted backwards a few steps.  Then he started up again.  This time he was more confident and didn't look back . . . I could hear his walker wheels scattering gravel as he raced toward me.  Philip was cruising with a big smile on his face.  Luckily it was dark, so none of the students could see my tears.

I think about that moment a lot.  I wonder if it meant as much to Philip as it did to me. The hours I spent with him that week made me a better person and reinvigorated me as a teacher.

Written by Aspen Gavenus

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