The joy of outdoor education


Last updated 12/5/2023 at 10:41am

Photo by Mike Geisen

Students ascend Strawberry Mountain - elevation 9,038 feet - on day two of a backpacking expedition..

At Sisters Middle School we have an outstanding outdoor science program called ECoS (Earth, Community and Self). It is offered to eighth graders and consists of five overnight, unforgettable expeditions and a few other amazing day trips.

Some of the opportunities provided in ECoS include backpacking, building a snow cave, surfing, rock climbing, tree climbing, repelling, and much more. Mike Geison is the founder of ECoS and this is now his ninth year running it with his partner, Rob Jensen. Many other people also help out with ECoS, including high school senior interns. This year the interns are myself, Brooke Blakelock, and Juhree Kizziar. Back in the 2019-2020 school year, the three of us were in the ECoS class, but because of COVID, it got cut short. Our class only got to go on three of the overnight expeditions and two-day trips.

Last spring, Geison emailed everyone from our past ECoS class and asked if anyone was interested in interning for the 2023-2024 school year. Brooke, Juhree, and I all share similar passions and we knew we had to immediately jump on the opportunity. We thought that this would be the perfect chance not only to become better mentors but also to live out the rest of ECoS that we missed because of COVID.

So far, we have gone on two expeditions with the class and have had an absolute blast. Back in September we went on the "Belknap Expedition," which consists of camping at Lava Camp Lake, hiking Belknap Crater, rappelling into Little Belknap Crater, and a handful of other adventures. Throughout the expedition I got to know each of the kids as we hiked, cooked dinner, shared stories around the campfire, and Brooke and I taught them how to poop in the woods.

We also attended the "Strawberries Expedition" in October, which was a three-day backpacking trip through the Strawberry Mountains. On this trip Brooke, Juhree, and I each had our own group of about eight students and an adult leader. My adult leader was Amber Tollerud, and although inclement weather made the trip challenging, by the end of it all everyone had a huge smile across their face. 

Considering our daily life, interning takes up our fourth and fifth period class, so in total Brooke, Juhree, and I are at the middle school for a little over two hours a day.

Days vary from unloading a whole bunch of gear, to organizing entire storage closets, to repairing arrows, to planning fitness for the students, and throughout all of these activities, laughter is always the driving power. Whatever we end up doing, it is constantly a great time and the perfect way to end the school day.

I am so beyond grateful for the fact that I was enrolled in the ECoS class four years ago, as well as being an intern today. ECoS has allowed me to be okay with stepping outside my comfort zone. It caused me to build connections with a myriad of people, and it has played a major role in the development of who I am as a person.

When I first found out that my role as an intern was solidified, I knew that at the end of it all, I wanted to become a strong mentor, advance my outdoor skills, and simply enjoy my time. Here I am, about a third of the way through the year and I can proudly say that I don't have to wait until the end because I have already accomplished these three goals. I am beyond excited for the rest of the year ahead of me and everything that will come with it. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity of being an ECoS intern. To anyone who is in, or has children in the ECoS program, remember to cherish each moment, and recognize that the experiences offered create memories that last a lifetime. 


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