After shifting from upper school principal to director of experiential learning this year, Pelletier is ready to guide seventh- through 12th-graders through the wilderness of the North Georgia Mountains.
“This is a program I’ve been wanting to start for the last couple of years,” Pelletier said. “We have miles of trails and state parks that are just beautiful. I want these kids to see [them].”
Pelletier, along with assistant Jenn Hutchins, will take a dozen students at a time on a three-day, two-night backpacking trip during the week.
“They will learn basic life skills, camping skills, cooking skills, time management and how to set up tents and choose a campsite. … They’ll learn how to eat, sleep, bathe and take care of themselves in the wilderness,” Pelletier said. “We will also cover environmental ethics. … We will educate folks about taking care of the wilderness so we can continue to enjoy it, and they’ll learn about North Georgia’s wildlife and plant life.”
His mission is to challenge students in ways they are not tested in the classroom, he said, and they will not be allowed to bring cell phones or other electronic devices with them.
“It’s important because it is life skills that you will carry with you for the rest of your life,” Pelletier said. “I grew up in New Hampshire backpacking and camping, and there’s things I learned then that I still apply to my everyday life.”
Eighth-grader Andrew Weltlich said he is looking forward to the new program because he is excited the outdoors will be a part of his academic life.
“I want to learn how to put up a basic tent and I want to learn how to cook meals from the wilderness,” Weltlich said.
Additionally, Pelletier will lead the Adventure Club for Holy Spirit, an optional club where students will have the chance to engage in other activities like fly-fishing, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and rock climbing, after school and on weekends.
On campus, a newly renovated outdoor center will be used as a preparatory classroom and a place to keep equipment.
“We will teach them how to pack and talk about appropriate clothing,” he said. “We’re going out rain or shine.”
He said the program is also about students getting along with peers.
“We’re together for essentially almost 50 hours and there will be a lot of small-group dynamics,” Pelletier said. “If kids can do this, they can do anything.”
He said he hopes to take the first bunch out by the end of the month, and more than 95 percent of the students want to be involved.
“Kids develop a resiliency and sense of accomplishment,” Pelletier said. “If you’re out there and you’re cooking your meal and it’s pouring rain, and you get it done and you eat it, you can do almost anything.”