Navigating Junior Four Point: Winter Camping With A Deeper Purpose

March 16, 2018

Junior Four Point

What is Junior Four Point?

Every year in March, Gould Eleventh-Graders venture into the White Mountain National Forest for the eight-night winter camping excursion known as Junior Four Point. Leading up to the big day, lots of students are filled with anxiety about the trip. By design, there are a lot of unknowns. Who will be in their group? Who will their trip leaders be? Where will they go? How cold will it get?

Gearing Up Before Heading Out


They might not realize it at the time, but they leave campus extremely well prepared for their journey. Besides being accompanied by expert faculty trip leaders, they are also impressively geared up. Here’s a short list of just a few items they are outfitted with.

With all of that in tow, Four Point groups could probably stay in the woods until spring. Dining services also make sure that they are well fed. Hiking all day and setting up camp in deep snow is hard work, so students need to replace thousands of calories. You really can’t eat too much on Junior Point. There are legends of whole sticks of butter being added to hot chocolate after a long days hike.

Group Shots & Mountain Tops


See More Junior Point Photos Here!

On the surface, this appears to be an exercise in wilderness survival. Students learn to navigate the woods, build and cook over a campfire, dig shelters, string up tarps, and most importantly, stay warm. But these hard skills are only part of the picture.

Why Go Into the Woods?

Director of Experiential Learning and Four Point Program Coordinator Chris Hayward gives a lot of thought to the underpinnings of Junior Four Point. He talks at length about the importance of the competencies gained on Four Point excursions. Problem-solving, effective communication, and caring for one another are just a few of the benefits he envisions. “These skills are essential in life and this is much more than a wilderness trip, it is a journey into each and every student’s person, and helps them figure out who they are and who they want to be,” explains Hayward. “Students learn that they can take on daunting tasks and that they can work as a team, be creative, and get through anything they put their minds to. They will need this confidence as they move forward.”

On the Move & Doing the Work


Facilitating this type of empowerment can require a bit of a reset. Students at Gould lead busy lives. They have classes, athletics, clubs, service opportunities, instrument lessons, standardized tests to prepare for, college visits, and much more; all while being inundated with their digital lives and social media. Not a minute of a typical Gould day goes unaccounted for, and students are perpetually plugged in. That’s where the Junior Four Point program comes in. None of those distractions are allowed out in the woods. No smartphones, no studying, no texting, no video games, and definitely no snapchatting. Just their peers, their trip leaders, and the wilderness. It’s a chance to unplug, to reflect, and get to know their fellow students in a more intimate setting. “It was about focus. Setting up tents, starting a fire, making dinner,” says David Song ’19, a Gould Junior from Seongnam, Korea. “Those three simple goals brought us together. When we were focused there was synergy and chemistry within the group. We found a way to work together.”

I had a chance to think again about the opportunity that I have right now, and what I should do with this opportunity. It was precious time. I have this [new perspective] right now, and my goal is to hold on to it.”

– David Song ’19

Around the Campfire


Maybe even more importantly, it’s an opportunity to take some time to learn something new about themselves. Students learn where they fit into a group. Where they can flourish. Anna Clare Miller ’19 of Mercersburg, PA found that to be a leader, it doesn’t necessarily mean being vocal all of the time. “I learned about leadership and where, in a group, I work best, and how I can help other people. I learned that sometimes you have to take a step back and observe, and sometimes you can’t be passive. You need to get your opinion out there because it might be constructive.”

“I learned about leadership and where, in a group, I work best…sometimes you can’t be passive. You need to get your opinion out there because it might be constructive.”

– Anna Clare Miller ’19

Coming Out of the Woods

In the end, the physical part is manageable. Trip leaders pull back after the first few days and let the students take the lead. Groups figure out how to work together and thrive in the cold. Being in the woods becomes their reality. Walking without snowshoes feels unnatural, the taste of campfire in your water is commonplace, and calmness and serenity become the norm. The constant need for technology is gone, and students are present and engaged with their teams. Nancy Eaton, a Science teacher who has been leading Junior Four Point trips for fifteen years, noted that relationships and self-reflection are at the core of the program. “Junior Point is about making connections, with each other and within oneself,” says Eaton. “I hope my students emerge with a new perspective on their peers and with a few new friends. They discover that they are stronger and more capable than they ever imagined.”

Trip leader Nancy Eaton with Sophie Szurko ’19 showing off her strength and capacity to adapt

To quote Pete Hedden, past Gould faculty and long-time trip leader, students emerge from the woods on day nine feeling “ten feet tall and bulletproof.” That sentiment is echoed by Kat Dade ’19 of Gilmanton Iron Works, NH, who only a few days earlier thought there was no way she could survive eight nights on Junior Four Point. “We’ve become so independent in these nine days, think about how much more we can grow in life.” Kat further reinforced, “It’s not about hiking, it’s not about if you’re physically fit. It’s about what you can learn about yourself, your classmates, and it gives you the chance to reflect on how you fit into the world.”

Junior Four Point

“Nine days in the woods? No Way. NO WAY!”

– Kat Dade ’19 (prior to Junior Four Point)

When faced with the notion of whether or not they would do it again, some students are proud of what they have accomplished and have a new found appreciation for the simple things, but would never consider it. Many others, however, would do it in a heartbeat. Right after they take a hot shower and a long nap in a warm, comfortable bed.

Junior Four Point
Special thanks to all the trip leaders who took cameras out into the woods and came back with these fabulous shots!

See More Junior Four Point Photos Here!


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