Springfield High School student Sabrina E. isn’t completely sure why she’s going to be walking the Camino Francés this summer, but she knows she’s going to get something out of the experience.
“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but I feel like it’s going to be something good,” she tells me as we chat over Skype.
But she’s scared, too.
“It’s a large step, from being at home all summer long to being away from my mom for forty days,” she says.
I think the furthest I’ve gone without my mom was to Idaho, and that’s only eight hours away. So this is huge compared to that.
But that’s not going to stop her, or any of the three other students from Springfield, Oregon who are preparing to walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago or Finisterre (they’re not quite sure where they’ll finish) this summer with two teachers.
History teacher James March said he chose the four students—all girls—for the trip from their response to his questions.
He would ask, “What are you doing this summer? Do you want to do a trip?”
“And they would say yes before they thought about it,” he says.
They said yes from a gut feeling…. That was my litmus test.
James is a veteran of the Pacific Crest Trail and other long hikes. After he began teaching at Springfield High School, he decided to involve students in his trips.
“I figured it was about time to share that experience with students, that long distance sort of ‘get to know yourself’ sort of trip,” he explains.
As soon as he returned to school last autumn, students started asking about the next trip. James selected the four students, and gave them a choice: the Camino Francés, or the 88 Temple pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku, Japan.
Sabrina and the other three students researched the two pilgrimage routes. Even though James was pushing to go to Japan, they chose Spain.
Why the Camino Francés?
For Sabrina, looking at pictures helped her decide.
I think it honestly was … just the views of everything. And I’ve watched so many movies with Spain in it that I thought it’d be great just to actually see what was there.
She’s especially excited to see the cathedrals, as it’ll be a great experience to see the buildings she’s learned so much about.
In a brochure the students are creating to give to friends and family, Grade 10 student Deija Z. writes that she’s always wanted to go to Europe.
“I know [the Camino] will be hard,” she continues, “but I am going to try my best.”
Auna G. writes in the same brochure that she dreams of travelling the world.
And as for the Camino: “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for me and I could not pass it up!”
The students—and their teachers—have been doing their research, and already have a good idea of what they’re preparing for.
Because of the timing of their holidays, they’ll have to walk in summer. At first, James was a little worried about the pilgrim crowds.
“I’ve done trips like this completely alone, where you don’t see people for three days,” he says.
And I know this is going to be a completely different experience. But I think it’ll be good, too. Because I think part of what we’ll all get is that cultural experience of staying at hostels and meeting people from all around the world. Having that sort of experience is something I’m looking forward to just for myself, not only for [the students].
James figures they’ll tackle the Pyrenees in a single day, as long as he’s sure they won’t hurt themselves.
“I think it’d be fun for them to get the idea of it physically right off the bat,” he says.
I think it’s kind of nice to [have] a big eye-opening experience on the first day. This is going to be our body and mind trip, and we’ll get the body thing done right away.
James outlines more of his philosophy as a teacher/chaperone on the trip in an e-mail he sends me after our chat. He aims, he writes, to have the students make the daily logistical decisions throughout their Camino.
I hope they are successful at it, but I also want them to screw up a bit and I’m perfectly fine letting them do so. Of course, if they are risking life and limb, I will offer my humble advice, but I want them to own this experience. Basically, I want the opposite of a strict itinerary, where they can follow their noses, rest when they feel appropriate, push when they feel good, and, like you said, stay in Santiago for a couple of days because they just want to.
I did the same thing [on the cycling trip] last year and if I think back, one of my favourite moments of the trip was realizing in the middle of nowhere Montana that I didn’t necessarily need to be there for them to successfully get home.
The pilgrim students and teachers have just solidified their plans, and there’ll be time for physical training later. The focus now is on fundraising.
The students are from what James describes as “a poor school, a poor district, a high-needs community.” The school district won’t be funding any of the trip.
So the prospective pilgrims will be asking friends and families for help, and are looking into bake sales and other fundraising opportunities.
James has also set up a project on the DonorsChoose.org website, where people around the world can pitch in to help buy the students’ backpacks.
“I wanted them to get something that was nice, and something to be proud of,” he explains.
There have been a number of donors so far, but there’s still US $480.45 to go. James says if they don’t quite reach the $745.45 goal, he’ll pitch in a few hundred dollars to make up the complete amount.
One of the reasons for the Camino trip is to represent Springfield High School.
Last year’s bike journey got the school positive press, James says.
We want to do something similar again, and keep showing that our school is doing really interesting and fun things. That’s the main motivating factor behind this.
“And the experience itself, pretty much,” Sabrina adds.
Just being able to get out there and not sit at home all summer long doing nothing. We’re actually going to do something worthwhile.
* * *
The students are going to blog about their journey, and have already started blogging about their preparations. Check out the Millers on the Way to learn what they’re up to.
You can learn more about their trip—and/or make a donation to help with their backpacks— at the DonorsChoose.org website.