Big Bend canceled due to COVID, replaced by Big Bend Lite


Ellie Monday

Eighth graders from the class of 2022 rest in the shade during a long hike.

Dawson Chang, Staff Writer

For the first time in 44 years, Class Eight students did not embark on the annual Big Bend trip. From Feb. 20-26, 123 eighth graders would have camped near the international border between the United States and Mexico, if not for the pandemic.

“Traditionally, the Big Bend trip has marked a moment where students transition from Middle School to Upper School,” Director of Experiential Education Marty Thompson said. “Since I was five years old, our students have gone to Big Bend.”

Thompson says that the Big Bend trip is the first time many students see awe-inspiring nature. At Big Bend, students learn about topics related to the trip, such as human impact on the environment and immigration across the border. Some talk to senior counselors about Upper School life during hikes and chores. Thompson feels disappointed that this year’s eighth graders missed out on these experiences.

“I miss so many things about Big Bend, and I’m so sad that they didn’t get to experience it this year,” Thompson said.

Throughout the trip, students face challenges ranging from cooking dozens of meals each night to sleeping in below-freezing temperatures. Thompson enjoys watching the students overcome these challenges and adopt collaborative mindsets as a result. 

“I miss that moment when a kid realizes they’re capable of doing something that they didn’t think they could do,” Thompson said. “I remember vividly a young lady who earned 98’s on every test I ever gave her as a Class Seven history teacher. When she finished the 16-mile-long Blue Creek hike, she looked me in the eyes and told me that it was the hardest thing she’s ever done.”

In replacement of the trip, Thompson created Big Bend Lite, an on-campus, outdoor event during which eighth graders will participate in social activities and camp in tents over two days in late April. Although Big Bend Lite will not provide the same struggles as the usual Big Bend trip, Thompson still hopes to promote socialization and exploration.

“I’m still really excited for this,” eighth grader Mark Doan said. “At the end of the day, we still get to work and adventure together. That’s pretty special in itself, especially during the pandemic.”

I miss that moment when a kid realizes they’re capable of doing something that they didn’t think they could do

— Marty Thompson

Upon returning from Big Bend in February 2020, Thompson knew close to nothing about COVID since the pandemic had only recently entered the United States. A week later, Head of School Mark Desjardins brought the entire faculty into Lowe Theater to discuss the possibility of school closure. On March 12, campus closed for the rest of the semester.

“Usually, we feel that we have control over things, but COVID has proved that we’re not really in control,” Thompson said. “I realize how lucky we were with the timing of the Big Bend trip last year. It never crossed my mind when we came back last year that we wouldn’t be able to go again.”

Due to the experiential nature of overcoming abnormal challenges, the Big Bend trip bears resemblance to life during COVID. Thompson explores whether parts of the trip will change after the pandemic.

“When the pandemic is over, there may be parents who are petrified of sending their kids on a trip,” Thompson said, “so how do we recontinue these programs that we love? All of us are reassessing.”

The week before Big Bend would have taken place this year, Winter Storm Uri hit Texas. Among other teachers and students, Upper School history teacher Amy Malin drew similarities between life during Big Bend and the weather event.

“Ms. Malin sent me a text in the middle of the snowstorm,” Thompson said. “She told me that she’s grateful for the year she got to go to Big Bend because she had her old gear to keep herself warm and knew how to handle all of these challenges.”

Thompson hopes to return to Big Bend in February 2022. In order to achieve this ambition, Thompson asks students to aid their communities.

“I love that Big Bend is a trip where we choose to help other people before helping ourselves,” Thompson said. “Upper School students, think about something you learned on that trip, and apply it to your lives. As we work towards getting back to normal, find a way to help out — just like you would at Big Bend.”