Seniors at South Pasadena High School have a marvelous opportunity to participate in a very special trip to Yosemite. Past participants have described the trip as life-changing on many levels.
In the fall of 1979, a senior in Mr. Ring’s Biology class asked him why SPHS didn’t have a Yosemite trip because he had heard friends at another high school raving about their experiences. With the help of Social Studies teachers, Mr. Cox and Mr. Grillo, they looked into it and the inaugural trip was May of 1980.
For the first several years there were 52 students placed into four hiking groups. Each group consisted of thirteen students, one teacher, and one Yosemite instructor. Today, SPHS takes five hiking groups, each with twelve students, one teacher and two instructors.
In the early years, some students went on the trip three years in a row. As the program became more popular in the mid-80s, it was limited to seniors and has been a senior trip ever since. Originally it was a first-come, first-served registration; however, the administration put an end to that when students began spending the night outside Mr. Ring’s classroom to make sure they reserved a spot. As a result, the “Acorn chase” went into effect, which insured that only the most committed and physically fit students would participate. The “Acorn chase” is the selection process they use and refers to a point system. The students accumulate acorns by turning in forms, payments and an essay on time. They also get acorns for participating in workouts and attending meetings.
Bruno Cavalier from the class of 2015 says emphatically, “the Yosemite trip kind of broke down the barrier between teacher and student for me! It also helped me break out of my shell. It was an amazing way to learn things about yourself because you are put in a very vulnerable and exhaustive state. Overall, the Yosemite trip was amazing because you gain friends and relationships that make your senior year that much more special!”
Traditionally, the trip takes place in late May to include as many students as possible (after spring sports, AP exams, etc.). However, trips in January and February have allowed students to cross country ski, snowshoe, ice skate, and build and sleep in snow caves. Spring seems to be the best time to visit Yosemite for a variety of other reasons. Waterfalls are exploding as the winter snows melt, wildflowers are beginning to bloom, encounters with wildlife are more likely, and backcountry locations are more accessible. As a result of their Yosemite experiences, some students rearranged their college and career plans to pursue environmental science or outdoor educating. One student later became a Yosemite instructor and led one of the hiking groups to the top of Half Dome. The program has been in effect long enough that some current students’ parents have been on the trip when they were at the High School.
Recent graduate, Brittany Jarjour, says she had never anticipated going on the trip but was persuaded by her boyfriend to try something new. Jarjour began the trip nervous for what was to come but says all her fears and doubts disappeared once she began hiking with her fellow classmates. “From the moment we began hiking, I was reassured that I was surrounded by others who would help and support me through the whole trip,” she explains, “the time I got to spend with these people, who I would give a simple hello to at school…they became some of my best friends. The memories I have with them are irreplaceable and I hope to maintain these friendships throughout my future.”
After over three decades, the Yosemite Program continues to have a tremendous impact on the South Pasadena High School Community. Student and teachers have the opportunity to escape the four walls of the classroom for one week to experience the beauty and power of Nature first-hand. It gives people the chance to get reacquainted with their senses and to enjoy how simple life can be. This is especially true when you are carrying everything you will need for four days on your back. The hope of the teachers is that the students discover the most important aspect of this trip; the people. They discover how bonds of friendship are formed when individuals work and cooperate together when facing physical and mental challenges in the wilderness of Yosemite. Mr. Shotwell says, “it is my favorite activity each year; the students in my hiking group this year grew extremely close and still stay in touch and get together.”