Wallops Island: A Magnet Rite of Passage
by Mythili Mandadi '11 and Maggie Shi '12
It's Wednesday morning and all the juniors and seniors are walking around with slightly bitter looks on their faces while the freshmen simply look unimpressed.
None of the teachers get it, or at least, they don't realize until one junior says wistfully, “Remember that ghost crab I found on the beach?” Her friends parry back with their own stories. “Remember how Alex nearly broke his leg?” “The satellite dishes that point upwards?” “Oh — the beautiful sunrise.” “Remember how Nader, Scott, and Sina were up at midnight, brushing their teeth?”
The freshmen don't understand. “I don't get it; what's so great about Wallops?”
The upperclassmen simply shake their heads.
“Enjoy it, while you can,” I say sagely. “It all goes downhill from Wallops: APs, junior year, SRP, college apps. It's a tradition, Wallops is. It marks your transition into -.”
On the same Wednesday morning, this year’s sophomore class was a bit more chipper. Though exhausted from lugging their sleeping bags and overstuffed trash bags full of extra changes of clothes up two flight of stairs, they were still giddy with anticipation and excitement. Most of us couldn’t sit still during our 1st, 3rd, and 5th periods. Hard as we tried to focus — We would be losing three days of school! — everyone eventually found their eyes wandering towards the unbearably slow clock.
Fifth period, our last period of the day — Finally, we understand the wonder of seniors' half-day schedule! — was when the countdown really began. “It’s the last forty-five minutes you guys. We can do this.” “Twenty…” “Fifteen! We’re down to fifteen!” “Five… now, four! So… close…”
Finally, after 3 agonizing periods, the bell had rung. We raced eagerly out of our rooms to retrieve our bags and carry them downstairs and onto the buses. Leaving the familiar parking lot of Blair, we began our journey to the famous Wallops Island…Four hours later, the buses came to a halt in front of the newly renovated dorms — we had heard the horror stories of Wallops in the past. And so we got off the buses and hauled our bags to our rooms, gloating that we were the first class from Blair who didn’t have to endure the notoriously awful dorms of countless classes before us.After getting settled into our rooms, we ran out to explore the territory. Everyone ran out to the grassy field and soon soccer balls, volleyballs, Frisbees, and baseballs were flying back and forth in the air. The less active sophomores chose to lie lazily in the grass, basking in the sun and enjoying the crisp, blue, summertime sky. After frolicking under the sun, we all clumped together in one twisted line to the cafeteria for dinner. Surprisingly, the food was not awful. Perhaps, it had been an omen of three very good days of fun to come. Once we had eaten, it was time to meet our guides and start our activities. The guides, an energetic and youthful bunch, explained the unique features of a barrier island ecosystem like marshes, dunes, and the intertidal zones. At first, the explanations seemed just like normal class: a lecture, some writing on a white board, some notes. Then, it hit us: tomorrow we were actually going to go to the places we were learning about, and encounter first hand everything we had learned! As the lecture ended, we headed back to our dorms, nervous but excited about what would come the next morning.The next two days came and went in a blur of bus rides, muddy clothes, near all-nighters, intense go-karting adventures, photo-ops, mysterious organisms, and mosquitoes. Lots and lots of mosquitoes.During the day, we toted our composition notebooks to the various locations, hurriedly writing down notes and drawing sketches, all while trying to avoid getting the notebooks muddy or wet. Squinting under the bright sun, we caught organisms with small nets and with the “otter trawl” (a huge net that trailed our research boat and required an entire group of people to hold it). We wore our oldest sneakers to the marsh, and hard as we tried to cautiously walk in the spongy mud, many of us ended up slipping into holes in the ground. At the dunes and intertidal zone, we studied the various plant life and soil conditions, while enjoying a salty sea breeze.In four days of biological education though, we learned more about the complex, anthropomorphic organisms around us than the soft-shelled, furry, feathery, spineless creatures we observed. We learned about each other. After spending 3 days rooming with our classmates, we knew who the biggest slob was, who snored the most, the insomniac was, the one who refused to wake up, and who took half an hour to get ready in the morning. We saw our friends in a different light and dark — grumpy, sugar-high, hyper, exhausted, or caked with mud.Along with learning more about our friends, we also learned more about our teachers. We got to see our teachers, normally calm and collected in class, letting loose and having more than a bit of fun. No more, “Okay so, test tomorrow!” but rather a lot more of, “He did not just say that!” Whether it was watching them wade around in the muddy marsh, cheering them on as they let their rivalries come out in a go-kart race, or just chatting with them during a long bus ride, we got to know a side of them that we had never seen before.On the last day, everyone packed their things up slowly in an attempt to stall. In just three days, we had made this campus our home. Wallops was a part of us and always would be. Finally, we knew we had figured out what made this field trip — no, journey! — so special for the magnet: the memories that we made, we would share with our friends and classmates for the rest of our lives.
There's not a lot of classes where sophomores outnumber the juniors, but Analysis 1A is one such a class. The juniors are in worse moods now than ever since they know the other 80% of their co-sufferers were getting to muck around while they were stuck learning anti-differentiation techniques.
When Mr. Rose gets back to the 11th graders in his Analysis 1A classes along with the freshly showered class of 2012, he remarks thoughtfully to me, “I think, that was actually more fun than the trip with your class trip last year.”
“You're just saying that,” I scoff confidently. Right?