Students at Panther Cave


Nine first and second graders from Lori Brown’s Healey School classroom stepped off a bus recently into a crisp and sunny November morning at the edge of the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Medford. They were warmly welcomed by the Waypoint Adventure staff members who would be leading the day’s adventure. Eighth grade Shady Hill School students met them to partner for the field trip.

The hike through Bellevue Woods took only a few hours, but Lori Brown and Waypoint Adventure’s Eileen Turpin, Head of Waypoint Adventure Curriculum Design, had begun planning for it at the beginning of the school year. Waypoint Adventure programs are not just about having fun outdoors, though that is important. The long-range goal is about positive individual and group development. Their mentality is “I Can,” and their adventures are designed to help students instill this belief in themselves even well after the activity is over.

To get the most out of the experience, Brown and Turpin discussed what kind of activity would best work for the classroom, developed detailed notes on each student to get a sense of personalities and abilities (with the help of a parent survey distributed well before the trip), and designed how best to make the most effective small groups. All of this preparation also helped to make the new Waypoint Adventure model of linking two schools together, in this case Shady Hill School’s eighth graders with Healey School first and second graders, more effective by partnering students with similar personalities and interests.

After Steve Dasman, Waypoint Adventure’s Program and Volunteer Coordinator, helped situate the group in the opening circle to explain hike expectations and the day’s route and schedule, he asked everyone to share the name of their favorite animal. Hedgehogs, cheetahs, and bunnies were well represented. Students then played a game of Red Light/Green Light, and discussed the group goal and theme of the day: Team.

Students at Wright's Tower


Extra hats, gloves, and scarves were distributed, and then the group set off uphill on a leafy trail to Panther Cave. Along the way, the young students and their eighth grade partners took turns as leads (at the front) and sweeps (at the back) of the group. Jose and Cooper were the first leads and were therefore responsible for navigating the terrain using a map. Eileen Turpin and Healey paraprofessional Shalonda DiSola worked as sweeps, and made sure that everyone stayed together. Reassured that there were no actual live panthers in Panther Cave, Lori Brown’s students and their Shady Hill School partners climbed the rocks, took a snack break, and started the next team-building activity, a scavenger hunt.

The scavenger hunt was a team challenge to find items such as a mushroom, an acorn, pine cone, different color leaves, and a spider web as the group hiked together from Panther Cave down Mud Road and then up Quarry Road. The team challenge was a deliberate way, as Eileen Turpin explains, to help everyone focus on their immediate surroundings and to work together toward a common goal. A quick group check of the map led everyone to agree that a sharp left would be the best way to reach the next destination: Wright’s Tower on Pine Hill. It was a difficult, steep climb and everyone was getting tired and hungry for lunch. But the team supported one another, and from the elevation of Wright’s Tower, the climb was worth it for the incredible views of the Boston skyline. Students took in the views of downtown Boston and speculated on where the Healey School building was by following Interstate 93 south with their eyes. From that height, the cars seemed very small. After exploring the grounds around the tower and having a picnic lunch together, it was time to head back to Bellevue Pond.


Everyone agreed that the hike back down to Bellevue Pond via Quarry Road was much easier than the climb up. Before boarding the bus back to the Healey School, Eileen Turpin led the team in a closing circle. Students shared their favorite parts of the hike, said goodbye to one another, and shared how they planned to use their teamwork skills even after they returned to the classroom. One of the first things Lori Brown’s students were going to do together was to write their eighth grade Shady Hill partners a thank you note.

Summarizing the value of the field trip, Lori Brown explains, “Our trip with Waypoint Adventure strengthened our class as a team. There was some student anxiety in advance, which is natural. But during the hike, students helped each other over boundaries and looked out for each other. They had a wonderful time.”

This multiyear partnership between Somerville Public Schools (SPS) and Waypoint Adventure is made possible through a generous grant from the Cummings Foundation. In 2018-2019, the Cummings Foundation selected SPS as one of their “100K for 100” program recipients. As a recipient of this award, SPS is partnering with Waypoint Adventure to support social-emotional and leadership development for targeted youth throughout the district through the 2021-2022 school year.

For more information about Waypoint Adventures, please visit For information about the Cummings Foundation’s work, please visit

---Abby Luthin, Writing Communications Specialist

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