by Marisa Lancaster

The new semester not only brought a new grading period and the Hath Caff, but also the return of four students who returned from their semesters away. It’s been exciting to see Emma Kennedy (Swiss Semester), Abby Rathbun (Alzar School), Carly Wellener (SEGL), and Claire Martens (HMI) around school again. Upon Claire’s return, I got to sit down and talk to her about some of the highlights of her four months in the mountains of Leadville, Colorado.

The High Mountain Institute is a progressive, interdisciplinary semester and summer school that has been opening its arms to forty-some eager, nature lovin’ teens for the past thirty-six semesters. The essence of HMI is best summed up in its motto, “Where nature and minds meet.” Claire shared with me that the people she met at HMI, herself included, had all come to the mountains with ambition and a hopeful heart for change.

“Everyone at HMI wants to be there. They went through the application process and have left their families and friends in hope of finding something out about themselves while pursuing their love for the outdoors. Everyone had their own story.” Claire affirmed. “I was leaving the feeling I so often felt at home of being alone in a crowded room.”

While at HMI, Claire went on three group expeditions which required her and her classmates to hike offbeat trails, scale mountains and learn in a not-so-traditional classroom of the great outdoors. While everyday on trail was pretty much the same routine, Claire always looked forward to their group ‘circle talks’ at night. Circle talks were an opportunity for the group to wind down and open up to one another on deeper topics. The circle was opened up by a teacher, whom Claire prefers to refer to as a friend and mentor, who would give a prompt. Claire’s favorite prompt was, “What was the most valuable thing you have lost?” to which her peers replied things like, “my mom’s trust,” “time,” childhood,” and “my self-confidence.” During these circles, Claire recalls that everyone spoke in soft, somber voices and it was often very emotional. [mtyale.jpg]

Another transforming part of Claire’s experience at HMI was her nine-hour solo expedition. During this time students were sprinkled throughout the forty-acre campus with only their journals, a bagged lunch and a tarp. To Claire this was more than just an isolation test, but also an opportunity to really reflect on the past four months through journal entries and personal reflection.

Along with these many adventures Claire also did a ten-mile run that they trained for every morning, was on weekly cook crew and helped her friend, Molly, cleanse her crystals. The most fulfilling thing about HMI for Claire was, “I know how to be happy now. It is really rare for a teenager to know what makes them happy. I know what kind of people to surround myself with to love and support me.”