“We didn’t realize we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.”
The Chrysalis School is a bustling environment. Each day is structured with school, therapy, daily responsibilities and connection. Life is more than a routine, connection is made and found in these day to day activities. Celebrating a home life is something we find pride in, whether it is talking over dinner, connecting one on one, helping each other with chores, or finding fun in everyday life. We are constantly connecting by sharing joy and struggles. We also value the importance of making time for each other, and each Sunday afternoon we do just that. No matter how busy the semester is, or how hectic the day or week has been, we know that we all have this time to simply spend with each other. We call this family time.
At the Lakehouse residence (one of the houses at Chrysalis), we regularly discuss what the evening’s family time will be in our afternoon house circle. The students make suggestions and requests, the staff members will discuss and decide what the activity will be. We have played charades, getting to know you games, cards, had lip sync battles and shared funny life events. A few weeks ago, led by a student looking for more of an adventure, the group requested a trip to Glacier National Park. Every summer, we spend a week at Glacier where we camp, hike and do service work with the entire campus. On some occasions, the adventure team may take small groups to Glacier for day hikes. The girls were looking to visit as a house and wanted it to be simple. They wanted to bond over music and a road trip, many had not gone to the “peak” at the Sun Road and wished to simply enjoy the essence of Glacier in the fall. This took planning and consideration, a trip to Glacier requires a full day and the staff team knew it would be a hectic morning to get the house cleaned and everyone fed. Sundays also include homework time, social phone calls, and valued free time. This request required everyone to be flexible and give their time to each other.
We decided that the next Sunday would be the best opportunity to allow planning and still make it to the top before the section of Going to the Sun Road that led to Logan’s Pass closed for the season. The weather was questionable until the day of, the forecast was calling for a 60% chance of snow and dangerous road conditions. The morning of the trip, the weather turned around to a beautiful, clear and almost warm day.
Heading out to Glacier National Park
The day of the trip there was excitement in the air as the girls collected their road trip music, and we carried that energy with us out the door. The trip to Glacier is about 90 min from Eureka, plenty of time to share music and sing loudly. Once at the park, we rolled through the gate, made a pit stop for the bathrooms and continued on what is a usually congested Going to the Sun Road. Visiting the park this time of year is a special treat for local folks. Absent of the overwhelming number of tourists, the roads and trails are quiet and the parking areas are scattered with cars in the off season. The park smells of Tamarack trees turning gold, preparing for the harsh Montana winter. There was a chill in the air, reminding us that feet of snow will soon be covering the seasonal roadways and ice will limit access to much of the park’s natural beauty. At the first stop, the group collectively took a deep breath and the feeling of gratitude was palpable. As the van climbed the 3,300 feet over the next 30 miles, past the Weeping Wall and Bird Woman Falls, a few of the passengers chose not to peer over the intense drops and focused on the sights ahead. The once loud van became hushed by the scenery. The music was turned to a calming and inspiring melodic beat. Near the top, one of the girls requested a stop at a lookout near Logan’s Pass. This was a common stop during her family’s visits and held memories she wanted to share with us. We exited the van, stretched our legs and started the walk to the viewing area. It felt natural to wait for everyone to exit the van before we started the journey, no one needed a reminder and many walked arm in arm. We felt like a family. On the way in there was excitement as a mountain goat was spotted high on a cliff, standing on a narrow shelf, seemingly suspended by ropes. There was no time limit for this stop, and several selfies later we left as a group as naturally as we arrived. We continued to the Logan’s Pass visitor’s center. The parking lot almost empty and the center closed for the season, it felt like we had the park to ourselves. We stayed until we were too cold to be outside anymore and the van felt once again like a place to bond over music and just be with each other.
It turned dark quickly on the way home, the van was quieter and just as happy. The music softer and the questions many. The ride back turned into the students asking the staff more about their personal stories. On campus, the focus is primarily on how we, as staff, get to know the girls. As a staff team, we are here for the students and there is very little focus on us. This unique experience was not lost on this staff member as this casual family trip turned into a bonding experience that has forged a much deeper connection.
Chrysalis provides a house, the staff and students are what make it a home.
~by Jenna Bronson, Residential Staff