Annual class trip to Deboullie is special for all involved

If you’re a seventh grader at Valley Rivers Middle School in Fort Kent, frosty mornings and the color tipped foliage of autumn days take on special meaning.

Kicking off harvest break means packing up duffle bags, knapsacks, breaking out the camping gear, and rolling north on a convoy of buses, pickups and vans through the North Maine Woods checkpoint headed toward the Deboullie Public Lands for a two day overnight camping trip.

This year’s trip, Sept. 19-20, was extra special with 2018 marking 25 years since the project’s inception. Some students’ parents even attended when they were middle schoolers, making this excursion a unique tradition for staff, parents, and other community volunteers who help make it happen for students in the district.

Community High School sophomore Shaylee Jandreau recently passed on the Deboullie camping torch to upcoming generations of SAD 27 students. During the fall of 2015, Shaylee attended the trip with her seventh grade peers. As with most students who have experienced the trip, she liked the idea of breaking through the traditional classroom walls to bring learning into a remote and rustic forest environment. She also appreciated that the staff and volunteers involved in the project really wanted to provide students a sense of comradery and lasting memories that would extend from middle school and beyond.

The Deboullie trip made such an impression on her that she decided to draft a letter to the LL Bean Corporation in an effort to procure any donation the firm might be willing to make toward keeping this project viable for future seventh graders in the district. In her letter, she described the creative, dynamic, and hands on approach to learning that this experience has offered to many hundreds of students since it began.

She wrote about the hour long bus trip into the north woods, the camp set up on Perch Pond, the afternoon learning stations that guest speakers and teachers facilitate, the evening skits and games, huddling around the warmth of a campfire, and the early morning hike up Deboullie Mountain.

Something in particular that Shaylee noticed while pitching tents were zippers, tent poles and flies needing repair or replacement. Even with annual cleaning and inventory, through the normal process of setting up and taking down, there’s inevitable equipment wear and tear. Also, repeat campers can tell you that just about every kind of northern Maine weather has happened at one time or another. Participants pray for sunshine, clear skies and starry nights, but torrential downpours, frosts, and even an occasional snow flurry have also been part of the fall adventure.

Because of this, an idea dawned on Shaylee, which she forged forward from thought to deed. Her goal was to find a way to replace some of the shabbier tents so that future campers could be more comfortable.

It took almost two years, but eventually, Shaylee’s persistent efforts became reality in the form of 10 six-man tents donated by LL Bean. One afternoon last year, Mr. Ralph Caron, trip administrator, escorted an excited and teary-eyed Shaylee down the middle school hallway. With a smile that could have spanned from Fort Kent all the way to Pushineer Pond, she couldn’t wait to show one of these magnificent tents to her former seventh grade teachers.

Shaylee would be the first to admit that her dad has provided her with some of the role modeling that reflects the “paying it forward” mindset. Shon Jandreau started as a chaperone when his oldest son Colby came through the ranks. Since then, his other three children have been and gone, yet Shon still goes every year. And he’s not the only one. He’s joined by other die hard volunteers, some who plan their personal work vacations around the trip because they’ve seen the positive impact on the children. Jerome Ouellette and Steve Lozier, both licensed EMTs, provide piece of mind. Though the site is isolated, campers are in the capable hands of trained medical personnel.

Repeat volunteers like Jake Robichaud and Jill Caron, as well as some former teaching staff are also familiar faces around the site. They have become the backbone of the trip, setting up and taking down camp, while supporting and building relationships with the younger campers. They also man the kitchen, providing probably some of the best camp cuisine south of the Canadian border. Any seventh grade diner can attest to that. Food does tend to taste better in the great outdoors, especially after working up an appetite orienteering and scavenging for items along the area ponds and woods.

Many of the Deboullie volunteers were brought up in the area and feel strongly about sharing with the next generation this precious jewel at the top of our state’s crown. Folks often speak about how little towns, through ingenuity, sweat equity, and helping hands, can get great things done. The Deboullie project is proof that it really does take a village, young and old, to build memories to last a lifetime.

Monica Cyr is a retired Valley Rivers Middle School teacher and 25-year Deboullie Trip alumnae.

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