How We Keep Students Safe On Our Experiential Learning Treks
Izzat Yaganagi, Head of ELP at Indiahikes, explains how we ensure safety on Experiential Learning Treks while working with schools and colleges
There is a growing awareness in educational circles that the mental, emotional and spiritual well being of our students are not addressed in our school curriculum.
We are seeing an alarming rise in students who lack self-confidence, who crumble under the slightest emotional disturbance, and whose sense of entitlement has tied the hands of parents and teachers alike.
Most are unaccustomed to hardship and have not tasted the joy of working cooperatively towards a common goal.
We at Indiahikes see experiential learning treks as a unique tool that can help young students overcome these issues.
On an experiential learning trek with us students are on an outbound trekking expedition. Under our supervision they plan and design their entire expedition. None of them have prior experience of doing anything like this.
On the expedition the students are immediately out of their comfort zones. They are in a completely unfamiliar environment.
Students trek, set up camp, cook, wash, help each other, struggle together, and finally cooperate to achieve their teams goals. They do things they have never done before.
This intense immersion experience combined with reflective sessions with our team results in deep learning that change the way students see themselves, the world and their place in it.
At the end of the program we have witnessed monumental transformational changes in the students. The changes are not small. For most it is a life changing experience.
At the end of the program students have become more resilient, they have learnt how to deal with hardships, they develop an inner confidence and become mentally stronger.
This is something we all want our students to learn — but most parents and teachers as well do not allow it. We push them constantly and make sure they do not go through the pain of facing real consequences.
In the mountains, it is nature in its raw form. The consequences of what we do or don’t do is immediately seen. For example, those who do not heed our insistence on physical preparation, struggle while trekking. Those who have made the effort to prepare have a much better experience of enjoying the beauty on the trail.
Weather in the mountains is unpredictable and we have to get to the next camp before dark. We have to constantly manage the terrain. There are ups and downs. Rocks and boulders, streams to hop over.
Weather is a challenge. It gets very cold, rain falls, there could be snow storms too. So on the summit day of the trek, we have a strict turn around time. If for any reason some get delayed, then even if they are 200 feet from the summit they have to turn back. It is very difficult for us to enforce it – but we must.
So, very naturally, an understanding of consequences evolves. The connection between the actions and decisions made and their outcome becomes evident. This brings in a strong sense of responsibility in the students. This is again brought out during reflections. This is a strong life lesson.
A bane of our present society is the absence of natural ways to get students accustomed to hardship. Doing it artificially often meets with rebellion.
On a trek, every aspect is a form of hardship. Students are out of their comfort zones right from the word go. From exerting their lungs and carrying their own backpacks, to sleeping on a hard surface in a sleeping bag. From toilets dug in the soil and no running water to freezing temperatures and having to wash their own dishes. From rising before the sun on the summit day and trekking 8-10 hours before they can rest.
Initially, there are a few complaints, but each day we see a change. Surprisingly summit day which is the toughest has the least complaints. In such a short time, they have become mentally accepting of hardship and after a point see it as a natural part of the day. Eventually attempts to avoid it disappear and students take on challenges head-on! To us, even if nothing else, this change makes the whole program worth it.
The ability to bounce back quickly after a bad phase or a crisis is another area that students struggle with. When we help young people view challenges as a critical part of success, we help them develop resilience.
We have seen that even four days in the mountains creates a shift in attitude towards challenges that come up constantly during a trek.
Every hour, every day students are faced with situations they have never dealt with before. They are completely out of their comfort zones. Pitching tents and sleeping in zipped up bags on hard ground, washing dishes in freezing water, cooking simple meals that they relish even if burnt or uncooked. They challenge their lungs and feet with long hours of trekking. They break mental frameworks to redefine needs vs wants, comfort vs necessities.
As the days go by they see the changes in themselves as well. This observation and awareness is brought about during the reflection sessions with the trek leader. Crises are not the end of the world.They see themselves in a new but realistic positive light. They discover areas that they need to work on and feel confident that they can. They learn to keep things in perspective
Gradually they begin to feel a sense of control over their minds and bodies. They know they can reach out to others for support when needed. Experiencing the support of the team and discovering inner reserves of empathy makes students discover new strengths within themselves. They readily take initiative to solve problems.
We noticed that when expectations are set and the means to fulfill them are in place, students arise to fulfill them. We do this to enhance the expression of human values while on a trek.
Students are divided into smaller teams during the trek and each team takes on a specific role each day. The teams are mixed and usually, students who are close friends are put in separate teams. The trek leader explains the role and responsibilities of each team.
The specific responsibility of one of the teams each day is to see to the wellbeing of everyone. To see that everyone is doing well, to offer help to those who are struggling, to encourage them, and to offer help where necessary.
We have seen students initially uncertain about how to show empathy and compassion. Some are naturally empathetic but many are not very tuned to others’ needs. With the right nudges and accompaniment by the trek leader and other staff, students learn to put the needs of others before their own.
Needless to say, for many, it could be the first strong experience of joy that one gets from service to others.
We have seen students very excited and full of energy at the start of every trek. An hour into the trek and we see many beginning to struggle. The questions start – How far more? When will we reach?
We then introduce them to a magic formula. We call it baby steps. Take small steps, don’t rush, breathe naturally and keep walking. Very soon we see students who were out of breath and struggling beginning to look around, smile and enjoy the beauty around them.
The actual impact of this formula is felt at the summit. Students stand in awe – their eyes large with disbelief that they had climbed all this way. Looking down they see their achievement and marvel at it. We often hear students say – if I have done this then I can do anything in my life!
This seemingly simple lesson is something that even adult trekkers take back with them. The impact on students is huge. They learn a deep truth – that nothing is impossible and all it takes is small steps towards your goal. You will get there.
Reflection is the key that is required in order to learn from experience. Without reflections after activities, the experiential learning cycle is incomplete and learning is left completely to chance.This requires taking time-out from “doing” and stepping back and reviewing what has been done and experienced.
Reflections are done individually as well as all together. Students are encouraged to verbalise their learnings and observations.
Team reflections,through simple questions, help in talking about what went well and what did not. They help in learning from mistakes and planning for the next day.
This daily practice helps students learn the Kolb process of learning from experience. They are facilitated to apply that learning to other areas of life and study.
For most students this is the first time they are experiencing nature in all its grandeur and majesty. Their minds expand and their spirits are elevated. They feel themselves connected with nature and as a part of the universe. Conversations and story sessions with the program facilitator further deepens their appreciation of the lessons nature teaches us. A deep sense of humility comes from realizing we are just a speck in the universe.
Throughout the program the students are involved in cleaning the trails and campsites. They are given eco bags to keep all non degradable waste. At campsites they segregate the waste and have sessions with the trek leader on what they can do for the environment in their lives.
Students these days are aware of the need to protect nature and many make efforts to do something about it. But it is quite rare to come across students who have been deeply touched by nature, feel closely connected to it and allow this connection to influence how they interact with it.
We have seen how a trek creates this deep connection. You can see their eyes bright with anticipation from the first sight of snow-capped peaks while travelling to the base camp.
Trekking through rich forests, alive with strange fragrances and bird sounds, triggers their excitement. Camping under the night skies and witnessing the grandeur of the milky way gives their imaginations a whole new dimension. Standing on the summit and seeing the amphitheater of mountains around them is an overwhelming moment for everyone. Some burst into tears. Most don’t understand why. This precious experience has touched their core. It brings to the surface feelings of gratitude and deep connection to the universe.
The Himalayan Expeditioners Program is the most advanced Experiential Learning Program we offer for schools. Here, the students get to plan and execute their own 4 day trek in the Himalayas with the support of the Indiahikes team.
Given that the environment is new and challenging, this pushes the students out of their comfort zones. Also, the enormity of the tasks involved in mounting their own expedition set the foundation for learning to happen.
Students trek, they set up camp, cook, wash, help each other, struggle together, stand in awe at the summit together. They do things they have never done before.
The level of involvement of the students in the planning and execution of their trek varies with their age.
At Indiahikes, we strongly recommend that the Himalayan Expeditioners Program follows the Wilderness Explorers and Eco-Adventurers programs. However, schools can choose to take the students directly on the program as well. The intensity of the program will be customized according to the level of preparedness of the students.
A trek in the Himalayas is a dream come true for most students. Students eagerly look forward to it. They are ready to do whatever it takes to be able to go – which mainly involves preparation.
Schools from all over the country are eligible for this program.
Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of nature as a classroom. Learning in the outdoors greatly increases the understanding of concepts as well as retention of learning.
Students sense of observation is sharpened and their curiosity is aroused. Trekking and camping in the wilderness – and cooperating to work together in teams brings out and polishes the qualities and virtues latent in children. These create the right setting for the facilitator to direct their attention to the learning objectives in mind.
Some schools send their students on these treks as part of their educational field trips. For some schools it is a co-scholastic program that enhances students’ life skills and impacts their attitudes towards the environment. It is an ideal CAS program for IB Schools. It also fulfills the criteria of the gold level of the IAYP program.
Though we decide along with the school on this an ideal age would be 11 to 17. Again we have taken younger students as well – but this is done only after consultation with the school and taking all issues into consideration.
The best time for these programs is either in May and June or in the autumn from September to November. The snowy winter in December and January is also possible (and the settings are fantastic) but students need to be mentally and physically prepared for a higher level of hardship.
Our vision is for more students to reap the benefits of our program. Our costs reflect that.
Main cost heads involve trek fee, transportation to the base of the trek and back and the trek fee payable to the Forest Department.
The final cost is decided after the components of the trek are finalized with the school.
For schools that are located in regions close to the hills we have special One-night camping treks as part of our Wilderness Explorers Program. This is ideal for schools who are unable to consider a full fledged Himalayan program but want students to benefit from a camping experience.
These are longer treks than the day treks and include a night of camping in the wilderness.
Camping along with trekking gives students the opportunity to experience living outside their comfort zones. Being in an unfamiliar environment and facing challenges they have never faced before immerses them in the experience.
In a Wilderness Explorers Program students are divided into teams. All teams need to carry out all tasks of camping and trekking – right from setting up campsite, to encouraging each other, to cooking their own food. Each team is given specific tasks for which they are completely responsible.
Along with this they trek to the summit and participate in reflections. All of this, facilitated by our trek leader, brings out immense learning.
Some schools send their students on these treks as part of their educational field trips. For some schools it is a co-scholastic program that enhances students’ life skills and impacts their attitudes towards the environment. It is an ideal CAS program for IB Schools. It also fulfills the criteria of the silver level of the IAYP program.
The costs involved are the trek fees, transportation to the base of the trek and back, and the trek fee payable to the Forest Department.
The treks are scheduled by the school and us – taking into account the school calendar, weather conditions and availability of dates.
Around Bangalore the treks that are most suitable are Ballalarayana Durga in Chikmagalur, Channarayanadurga and the Kopatty trek in Coorg.
Close to Dehradun and ideal for schools closer to the Himalayas (Delhi, Dehradun, Mussoorie, Saharanpur etc) we have the following treks: Benog Tibba, Nag Tibba and Deoban. All these treks have their starting points about 3-5 hours from Dehradun.
Schools close to Pune and Mumbai are also fortunate to have access to beautiful treks. For schools in this belt we have the following treks: Lonavla, Kothaligad, Naneghat
All these treks require the permission of the Forest department. We take the permissions in advance once the dates and student lists are finalized.
Eco- Adventurers Program are a great introduction to the world of nature and trekking. Schools that have access to hills close by can opt for a day long experiential learning program that happens on a trek in these hills.
Though the duration is short the learning is immense. Students trek together to a summit and return. On the trail and at the summit they participate in different activities. Every activity of the program is specially designed to bring out learning. Reflections on the observations and experience enhance that learning.
Some schools send their students on these treks as part of their educational field trips. For some schools it is a co-scholastic program that enhances students’ life skills and impacts their attitudes towards the environment. It is an ideal CAS program for IB Schools. It also fulfills the criteria of the bronze level of the IAYP program.
But whatever the initial reason for signing up, schools realise the benefits for the students are tremendous. The program complements the curriculum beautifully, to nurture students holistic development.
The cost is not something to worry about. It would depend a lot on local forest permission charges, local transport charges.
Indiahikes fee, more or less, stay the same — but would change if the student strength is high or low. The costs involved are the trek fees, transportation to the base of the trek and back, and the trek fee payable to the Forest Department.
The treks are scheduled by the school and us – taking into account the school calendar, weather conditions and availability of dates.
Since it is a day trek, students can go on a school day and be back before school closes for the day. It can also be held on weekends. Students will have to leave school early at around 6 am as it’s best to reach the base and start trekking before it gets too sunny.
There are easy treks and also more challenging ones. This opens the possibility of taking students from the age of 7 onwards for the treks. Students in high school greatly benefit from such an exposure. The biggest learning is experienced by those in middle school.
Many schools want their students to experience the benefits of Experiential Learning in the outdoors but many factors prevent it. It could be that there are no hills or wilderness spaces close by. The weather, safety aspect, parental reluctance and many other reasons could make venturing out difficult.
The Camp in Campus program seeks to address these issues.
From our experience of taking thousands of students on treks we have seen that a lot of learning happens while camping. This experience has been distilled and condensed into a special learning program that can be done on campus itself.
We set up the area to simulate a wilderness outdoor experience and all activities are specially designed to enhance learning. The best part of it is seeing the students’ excitement at sleeping in tents and having an adventurous experience.
For the Learning:
This program exposes students to a whole new approach to learning. They are in a new setting outside their comfort zones. They do things they have not done. They cooperate and work together in teams.
Children feel more independent and responsible. They get an opportunity to learn new skills and experience the joy that comes from helping each other. They become aware of what is really essential for survival and how to manage with the available resources.
As a stepping stone to programs in the outdoors:
Many schools may wish to initially test the waters before sending their students outdoors on a camping trek. Some may wish to introduce Camp in Campus on a regular basis, several times during the year, as an innovative approach to instilling life skills in their students.
The program can be held at any time that the school schedules it.
This could be on weekends or during any of the holidays. It is an 18 hours program.
Camping on weekends: As it involves camping on campus, the students can stay back after school for this program.
Ideally it could start the evening before the weekend starts and continue till 10 am the next morning. In total it is an 18 hour program
Holiday time: During holidays we could have an extended session — which would be a 2 day program with 1 night of camping.
Students between the ages of 7 and 14 benefit the most. For older students we would like the school management to consult with us before announcing a program.
Indiahikes stands for safety. Indiahikes is the largest and the safest trekking organization in India. Since 2016 we have had 7085 students from schools across the country with us on treks.
We have had no untoward incident on these programs. This is because of our robust Risk Assessment and Management System that rests on the 3 pillars of our three pillars – people, processes and equipment. And we constantly work on them.
Our Trek Leaders are certified mountaineers with a Basic Mountaineering Course or Advanced Mountaineering Course. Trek Leaders assigned to lead student treks are Wilderness First Responders (WFR) and NOLS certified. We have constant refresher courses and specialized training for them year-round – towards building capacity to handle any risks.
Every possible incident is anticipated and is planned for. Our processes are stringent and look to avoid/address any possible scenario that can compromise the safety of the students. These processes also look to address these scenarios in an efficient way.
We have safety equipment of the highest standards. Most modern safety equipment regularly used on treks in India were introduced by Indiahikes. In all of our treks, we carry the high altitude medical kit, an evacuation kit, a technical kit – all towards ensuring that any situation can be handled/mitigated.
These three pillars together – people, processes and equipment – keep your students extremely safe on our programs.
You can read more about how we keep your students safe here.
Indiahikes is extremely meticulous in the safety processes we follow for risk assessment and management. We draw up a Risk Assessment and Management plan before every trek - especially so if it involves children. We prepare a risk assessment and management plan for each project we take with a school.
“On the trek I saw the stronger children helping the weaker ones. I saw kindness and I saw gratitude. This effect seemed to remain even after the trek where a new strong bond seemed to be formed between those who were mere acquaintances before the trek. The children felt more eager to come to school and were more attentive in class.”
The India Hikes team is commended on their professionalism and the extra care that they take to ensure that the needs of each student hiker is taken care of. As an international teacher working with India Hikes, I have chaperoned multiple trips that were organized by India Hikes including three different day hikes in Karnataka, the Kedarkantha trek in Uttarakhand and the Hampta Circuit trek in Himachal Pradesh all over the course of three years while I taught at the Canadian International School in Bangalore. Having planned and supervised numerous trips over my career, I can attest that the most important concern of any school is the well-being and safety of the students. The India Hikes team is full of well-trained mountaineers who are experienced with working with school aged students and are attentive to their needs always ensuring that students are hydrated, supported emotionally during challenging hikes and also trekking within their ability.
I also feel compelled to promote the Green Trails initiative that this great organization supports. The Green Trails initiative ensures that each student receives a reusable bag to collect trash off the trail. Leaving the mountains in a better state after the trekkers leave than it was in when we arrived is an altruistic and ethically just act that instills a sense of ownership for shared natural resources and helps to foster an appreciation for sustaining our natural heritage amongst the students. I couldn’t be more proud of this organization for their initiative. As a Biology teacher and environmentalist myself, I always felt good to be able to share my passion of trekking with students in a way that leaves nothing but photographs and footprints behind. India Hikes provides the expertise of seasoned trail guides, the tents, sleeping bags, green trail bags and food so all students need to bring is some basic trekking gear, an open mind and an appreciation for the wilderness.
Lastly, I would like to promote the culinary expertise of the team at camp. Masala tea and hearty veg meals are always plentiful at camp. After a long day of trekking, all you can eat chapatis, rice, dal, pickle, paneer and other vegetarian dishes were always a enjoyed by everyone at camp. Working with non-Indian students, spicy food was always a concern. Again, India Hikes is aware of the palates of their student base and every dish was always spiced with plenty of flavor but lacking the heat that is not enjoyed by everyone. They even go so far as to produce delicious India deserts like gulab jamun and carrot halwa. I still dream of those delicious mountain meals and how I would often eat better up on the mountain than I even did back at my home in Bangalore. Without a doubt, I would recommend any school considering taking a group of students trekking, to contact India Hikes and meet with their team. From the planning phase through fruition to the reflection phase of the trip, they are thorough and will offer personalized service at a very affordable price.
Children from Makkala Jagriti had never heard of trekking before, nor had they ventured near the hills. It was a beautiful experience where they learnt about their own strength, helped each other and became one with nature. They were so inspired by the Green trail experience that they went door to door in their community to speak about waste segregation. They love to often reflect about the trek and the constant question lingers – ‘When are we going on the next trek?’”
Students on a trek become very independent. For the first time they learn to do the simple work on their own. It really boosts their self confidence. I have practically seen how trekking instills values of empathy and generosity in them. For the first time in their life they would have shared something with others. Students are always very comfortable in their house and they get what they want. But when they come out and trek they face all kinds of hardship, how it is to sleep in a sleeping bag on the hard floor, use minimal water, wash their own plates etc. They get to know each other at a much deeper level.
Trekking really helps students in the overall development.
“A really fun experience trekking up the hill. The view and the wind at the top was amazing. Seeing the beauty of nature, I feel we should preserve it carefully and not pollute and be careless towards the environment. The clean-up activity on the trek is a very good initiative. Cleaning and picking up wastes on the track actually made me feel good and satisfied.”
“The bond created between classmates, was definitely the biggest highlight, it was loads of fun as students helped one another. Teamwork was an important lesson I’ve learnt from this trek, this is indeed a beneficial exposure to all who participate. About the clean-up activity on the trek, I personally believe it is an incredible initiative to be aware of our surroundings and to keep it clean.”
It was a nice experience being in Ballarayana Durga. It was awesome climbing the mountain and camping with friends. It was marvelous seeing the sight from above the mountains. We could see the place where we started from top of the hill. It was very foggy over there. There were clouds above the mountain and below the mountain. It was like the land was floating. There were bushes in the camping spot. We thought leeches are deadly animals like mosquitoes but we realised that leeches are harmless. We had to sleep in tents. We made jokes inside the tent. The next day we learnt about wastes that do not cause damage to mother earth and waste that cause heavy damage to mother earth. On the whole it was a wonderful and memorable trip.
Izzat Yaganagi, Head of ELP at Indiahikes, explains how we ensure safety on Experiential Learning Treks while working with schools and colleges
A group of 26 enthusiastic children from Poorna Learning Centre set off on a trek to Brahmagiri. A simple trek taught children invaluable lessons they’re going to remember for life.
Nimesh Ved, a writer and blogger, accompanied a well-known school on a trek with us. He shares his observations of the impact trekking had on the students.
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