After beating our way hours north on a gray, cold Friday, a candlelit drive welcomes our bus, full of excited Blake students and teachers. The flames, flickering yellow against the untainted white snow, portend the warmth that awaits us. We park, and then descend upon Chilly Dogs, a dog sledding outfit owned and operated by the Hway family, with whom we’ve been doing business for seven years as part of our annual Wolf Trip. It is an impressive crew: three generations of humans, 85 eager sled dogs, and a handful of newborn pups, seemingly ordered up special for our fawning eyes and ooohs and aaahs. Grandma Hway has made cookies and hot chocolate, and there’s a fire in the woodstove. Our students accept wet kisses and gleeful barking readily as they mingle with the canine squad, they as happy to see us as we them. Soon they are hitched up, and whoosh, our first set of sled riders is off into the still and quiet of the Ely wilderness. Very, very cool.
Over the course of the weekend there were more such grand experiences: snowshoeing towards, then on, a Boundary Waters lake, close observation of four dignified and impressive ‘Wolf ambassadors’, and of course, once-in-a-lifetime ‘photo opps’ with friends. The Wolf Trip is a terrific excursion, put together thoughtfully by lead teachers Maelene Krig and Lynne Macziewski, and for 13 years we have been offering this opportunity to our 8th graders. This year, Natalie Rasmussen and Chris Garland chaperoned as well, and, including my wife Joan and I, that made six adults there to share the time with the students, as well as with the staffs of the International Wolf Center and Chilly Dogs. Even a setback on Sunday (the bus broke down overnight, so return was delayed by half a day) could not deter from the high spirits and outstanding comportment on display throughout the trip; I could not be more proud of our students and teachers than I am right now.
Blake offers an unbelievable array of opportunities; both here within our walls and to points sometimes well beyond. From theater productions to interscholastic sports to Special Programs assemblies to our clubs offerings, from the Camp Trips to Valley Fair Day to the DC trip to our recent run to Ely, MN, we give students the chance to get well past textbooks and essay-writing in our quest to offer a rich and well-rounded learning experience. Witnessing our students soak up the Wolf 101 class, then later dominate a game of Wolf Jeopardy, I was struck by how receptive our students are to learning, even on a Saturday far, far from home. This was not just a junket; our kids took the ‘work’ seriously, even while having serious fun. It is a scene replicated not only in our classrooms, but wherever we take them, and regardless of what we put in front of them. Respectful listeners, reflective thinkers, strong question-formulators – Blake’s middle schoolers are intellectually curious lovers of learning. They also work extremely well together – these 40 8th graders mingled easily, and I see it no differently amongst the 330 in our hallways. I witnessed not a trace of the middle school meanness that can pervade schools working with 11-14 year olds, and while of course such ugliness occasionally occurs here too, on the whole ours is an extremely respectful, accepting lot. I saw it in Ely this weekend, and I see it every day here; we can all be proud of the students with whom we work, and for the chances we give them to experience things that most can only dream of. Pulled by beautiful dogs that clearly were glad for the work, smoothly sliding over snow-covered terrain, moving stealthily between towering pines, Joan and I felt blessed to be there, and here.