Eighth Grade Essay 1
by Sophie Streitwieser
As a self-proclaimed person-with-no-religion, Quaker Beliefs don’t normally play a part in my day-to-day life. So naturally I was surprised when, looking back on the Canoe Trip, two phrases popped into my head: Simplicity and Appreciation for What You Have. Taking a trip into the wilderness is a wonderful chance to appreciate the comforts of home while also valuing the simplicity of camping, canoeing gently down a river with a friend, and admiring the beauty of the landscape around you.
There are many domestic routines that don’t function as comfortably as we might wish in the wilderness. A superb example of this is taking out your contact lenses. Standing in front of a sink, and looking in a mirror is a very easy and pain-free way to take out contacts. Bending over a barrel in the middle of the night, hands soaked in Purell, is not. ‘Good’ shoes quickly become ‘Gross’ shoes thanks to mud, rain and river water. If she has not packed well enough, a person is likely to run out of dry clothes very quickly, being forced to wear soggy damp clothes, while friends revel in warm fleeces. When sitting in a tent, shivering, with a group of girls who are quickly tiring of each other, one realizes how all of a sudden, home is Number 1 on the list of Places We’d Rather Be. Home: where it is warm, and someone else will cook us hot food, where we have cozy beds which don’t require half-an-hour of setup every night and aren’t infested with creepy-crawlies, is a much more compelling image than the girls of Group C’s tent.
And yet, some things are possible. Washing your hair for example. You could be in a shower, hot water raining down on you, or you could stand in a huge group by the riverside, suds all over, then scream bloody murder as a friend dumps freezing cold water over your head with a canoe bailer, while a teacher stands by, laughing, with a camera. You could be in a temperature-regulated swimming pool, or you could shoot down a river rapid in freezing water, valiantly bearing the pain of the first three swims, just so that on the fourth time, you are so numb, you can’t feel anything anymore and it becomes fun. And so, instead of doing that which is safe and known, we choose to try things we have never tried, at the spur of the moment, taking any and every chance thrown at us. And some things, it turns out, are better in the wilderness.
Meeting is a challenge for me, when I am on a hard bench, sitting in a dim meeting house, surrounded by friends to whisper with and nudge. But when I am floating down a river in a huge raft made of canoes, meeting becomes more of a reflective experience than any I have ever attended. The sun beats down and all around people bask in its warmth, sprawled quietly on canoes. Every few minutes, shouted directions are given to veer our raft around rocks or branches, and then we lapse quietly back. After we have stopped talking, it is strange to recognize how much noise our group has made, how much we don’t see or hear, and how quiet the river is without our chatter. How predominant the gushing water becomes when we take the emphasis off ourselves, and how simple life is when we float gently past houses, woods, and streams.
A major part of camping is the element they call: ‘roughing it.’ Not generally outdoors-inclined, I was dreading groovers, wet clothes, and blisters. I began to question my own sanity, and most of all, my friends’ sanity. Who would voluntarily spend four days in the wilderness? There are bears there! When I brought up this point, my friends laughed. “Oh come on! You’ll love it!” they exuberantly told me, “You will have SOOO much fun! More than you ever thought you would!” And, when I politely declined with, “No, I don’t think so. I have no interest in being eaten by a bear,” they shot back with, “You are such a Barbie! Come on!” So, proving I was not a Barbie, I decided to come along. I even signed up for Advance Crew, something I was especially proud of myself for doing.
And yet it is very hard to remember all these unpleasant things when you are sitting on a huge boulder, looking out over the beautiful river, talking and laughing. It is quite a pretty picture, especially when you factor in a sunset, and friends singing and playing the guitar. The night gets colder, but we don’t care. We are content on this rock, watching T. Ernest fish on a nearby boulder, just enjoying ourselves.
This is where I believe I was changed. As I was sitting on that rock, a thought came over me. “Well gee, this is sort of fun!” And to my surprise, I found I didn’t hate camping as much as I thought I would. The rain didn’t matter, the grouchiness didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was sitting on that rock, liking camping. And thus, the whole trip was put in a new perspective. Gone were the memories of stiff arms, rainy days, and water pooling into my sneakers whilst I half-heartedly bailed with a Wawa milk carton, cut in half, wishing I were at home. All I could think about was how much fun I was having with my friends, and how all of life had zeroed down into this moment, becoming simplicity itself. None of the bad stuff mattered anymore, because it was only the good stuff that mattered, so why waste time whining about the bad? This was a revelation to me and I suddenly found myself unable to stop smiling with happiness, because I, Sophie Streitwieser, was enjoying myself. And so, I came out a different person. Still me, but a happier, more optimistic person, who had learned the value of home and those Quaker Beliefs of Simplicity and Appreciation for What You Have. I just had a lot of blisters, which really hurt. But the blisters didn’t matter because my crazy friends were right. I had fun. And I actually learned something!
8th Grade Essay 2
by Charlotte Fisher
My years at Westtown Middle School have been filled with events and people that have affected me in both large and small ways. But one of my favorite experiences during my years at Middle School was my 7th grade book buddy project. I liked it partially because it was stepping out of the range of normal projects, but mainly because it was a chance to experience something that I had done when I was in Lower School, but from a different perspective.
The book buddy project pairs a fertile-minded kindergartener with a mature-minded seventh grader in an effort to create a children’s story. The tales range from saving dancing ducks, to sinister gangs of cheeses that dominate the refrigerator to the always popular dinosaur story. The seventh grader is given the daunting task of taking the ideas of the kindergartener and wrestling with them to form a logical, yet entertaining plotline.
Our young book buddies were nervous when we first arrived, which was to be expected. The plan was to start by playing games with them to let them get to know us. There was a very intense game of “A Strong Wind Blows” which is basically a variation on musical chairs, but is prompted by common interests. You truly never realize how much kindergarteners and seventh graders have in common until you play that game. You find that you share the love of ice cream, can forget to tie your shoes and have the tendency to get extremely competitive.
Once the kindergarteners were more comfortable around us, we sat together sprawled on carpet squares or curled on cushions in the corner, reading their favorite books. My book buddy and I read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which is one of my favorites. The first few times together followed the same pattern: reading books and getting to get to know each other. It was fun to look around and see all the different expressions on the kids' faces as they were reading their books. Some were obviously bored, some were hyper, and some were staring at their book buddies in awe. And then, of course, there were the nose pickers.
My book buddy and I worked hard to come up with a book about a horse attending his first day of school and struggling to make friends. The horse’s school was filled with a wide range of animals, from owls as schoolteachers to goats and dogs as classmates. In the end, the horse was able to befriend a pig and have more confidence in himself.
What I remember most about that book buddy project was being back in the lower school where I had grown up. Walking into that kindergarten classroom, where I had once sat years ago, brought back memories like playing house with Sara Kate and Charlotte, watching our chicks hatch and grow, telling secrets and giggling when we were supposed to be napping, pretending we were stuck in the bathroom and, my personal favorite, making the record player produce “funny” noises by scratching the needle back and forth.
The book buddy project gave me an opportunity to see how much I had grown as a person. It also gave me a chance to stop and remember. It made me realize that sometimes it’s not the larger things in life that change you, but the many smaller things.
Westtown Middle School has been filled with many of the smaller things, from friendship struggles in sixth grade, to failing a test, to school dances, to making French toast in home economics to the book buddy project. In the end, what I will carry more than the experiences themselves are the effects of those experiences. I believe that as a result of facing challenges, I am more confident. Instead of letting that F sit inside my stomach and weigh me down, I developed stronger work habits. And because of a million little moments, I have made memories and friends that will stay with me forever. I recognize as I reflect on my time from Oak Lane Day Care to the moment I stand on this stage that I have been blessed to spend this time at Westtown.