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Leading middle schoolers on outdoor adventures has TFA alum “super-stoked"

a middle school teacher sits with her students in a circle playing a hand game

October 27, 2021

When Megan Furois finished her two years of Teach for America service at Forge International School in Middleton, Idaho last year, she knew she wanted to keep teaching at the school, but she wanted something more as well.

Megan grew up in Spearfish, South Dakota as a “super-outdoorsy” kid, and attended college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., an area with easy access to the Cascade Mountains and the great outdoors. She spent her two TFA years teaching third grade at Forge but wanted to merge her love for teaching with her love for the outdoors.

“I had been talking about wanting to do outdoor education for a long time, and my principal offered me the opportunity to create the program at Forge from scratch,” Megan said. This year, she became the school’s middle school physical education teacher, “which melds a little better with the program and gives me more time to plan quality trips.”

One key element to the trips Megan is planning is to make them accessible to everyone, by raising scholarship money so that students from low-income families can participate. Introducing kids to the outdoors who have had limited exposure is one of the aspects of her new job that drives her.

In August, just before school started, Megan co-led her first backpacking trip for Forge middle-schoolers. It was a weekend-long trip to Hell Roaring Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains, near the town of Stanley. Accompanying her were three other adults and nine students -- seven boys and two girls.

The group hiked five miles into Hell Roaring Lake the first day and set up camp. The hike was relatively flat, Megan said, because she wanted them to enjoy the experience of carrying a backpack rather than having it “make them hate their lives.”

A few of the kids had never camped or backpacked before, so for them the entire experience was a real eye-opener. The goal, Megan said, was for the trip to be both fun and educational.

“We taught them how to safely cook in the wild, and how to pump water, and the importance of staying hydrated -- the essential basics.”

The day before the trip Megan gathered the group “with all their stuff” and taught a lesson in how to pack for a backcountry trip: proper weight distribution and essential equipment and clothing. “They're learning how to do it themselves so it’s not just this guided trip that they go on and everything's taken care of for them. They're actually learning how to be knowledgeable in the wilderness.”

The second day, wearing lighter, smaller daypacks, the group hiked another four miles and 1,000 feet up to Imogene Lake, where they got to swim and fish. “It was just a wonderful, beautiful day,” Megan said. “The lake up there is crystal clear. It's deep and the kids can jump into it. Everyone had a great time.”

Sixth-grader Emme Kirschner was one of the two girls on the trip. She had never been camping or backpacking before that August weekend. Though she was a bit anxious anticipating the experience, the reality of it left her hungry for more.

The idea of sleeping outdoors, not having a bathroom, and being unable to contact her family seemed a bit daunting, but she shared a tent with a friend “and I felt really safe the whole time.”

The most challenging part of the trip, Emme said, was the hike in, carrying a heavy pack. “My dad bought me a backpack and it was too big for me, so all the weight was on my shoulders. But it was fine.”

Megan said Emme never complained and displayed courage on the whole trip, earning her the nickname “Little Miss Positive.” Even a bee sting near her eye didn’t slow her down.

“I love hiking in general, and the trip up there was so beautiful,” Emme said. “I want to do it more and I feel more comfortable now, because I've already done it once. It really helped, having such great teachers, helping us on what to do.”

Emme’s mother Amy, also a teacher at Forge, said she loves what the trip did for Emme. “It was really her first weekend away from home, and it gave her a different perspective on life and approaching problems or issues in life. It was just a more worldly experience than she had had before.”

Megan is already planning future trips, including a snowshoeing trip to a yurt in March, and an April five-day trip to Idaho’s Hell’s Canyon during spring break.

“I’m super-stoked,” she said.