PAWS: Student Adventurers Push Their Limits

COURTESY PHOTO

Lisbon Regional School junior and PAWS student Hannah Champagne, foreground, on a whitewater kayaking expedition with senior PAWS classmate Peter Griffin.

LISBON, N.H. -- Like the TV show "Survivor," they were out on an island, without electricity and divided into teams for competitions.

"It's about getting out of your comfort zone and adjusting to situations you wouldn't expect," Lisbon Regional School junior Hannah Champagne said of the school's Panther's Adventure Wilderness Society program.

That experience last summer on Lake Champlain's Juniper Island, with U.S. Coast Guard search and water rescue training, encapsulates what LRS senior Peter Griffin said PAWS is all about - teamwork and challenging yourself.

Champagne and Griffin are two of the 15 students in the school's PAWS program, which has grown much since its modest beginnings four years ago. Activities today include rock climbing and taking a canopy zip line in autumn, show-shoeing, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, cold-weather camping and dog sledding in winter, and kayaking, rafting and fishing and hiking in the warmer months.

LRS senior Tori Rosebush joined for the adventure and the opportunity to put herself in extreme situations and push through them with a steel resolve.

"Be the first one to try it," said Rosebush. "You miss out on opportunities if you don't try it and you'll regret it."

Griffin and Rosebush were freshmen when Mary Coleman, LRS's middle school and high school guidance counselor, and Coleman's husband, Kellee Coleman, started PAWS and became its advisors. The program began with a phone from LRS Principal Steve Sexton, who asked the Colemans if they wanted to start an outdoor program for students. The rub was they no money and no equipment.

"My husband said, 'We'll do it,'" said Mary Coleman.

Kellee, who is an avid rock and ice climber, Telemark skier, member of the Pemigewassett Search and Rescue Team and no stranger to the outdoors, then worked with Mary to get 14 students together.

"Out of the 14, I think two of them had hiking boots," she said. But soon joining the cause was Jason Cartwright, president of Tender Corp., who contacted the Colemans and helped get PAWS outfitted with backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, crash pads and medical kits.

Also drafted was a mission statement, which is to teach the skills needed to safely enjoy outdoor adventures, develop leadership skills, instill a sense of stewardship, community service and a healthy lifestyle and help students cultivate a a relationship with the natural environment.

PAWS is open to students in ninth through 12th grades who are in good physical condition, in good academic standing and do not have any disciplinary reports or excessive absenteeism. Students must complete an application and interview to become a member.

"We have a very eclectic group," said Mary Coleman. "When we started it, kids didn't know what it was about."

Today, they do and the growing list of activities include whitewater rafting on the Rapid River in Erroll, whitewater kayaking, learning wilderness first aid, participating in workshops that include teaching members how to use a map and compass and instruct on how to treat such conditions as hypothermia, and enjoying the snow on Jay Peak.

"We have fund-raised for all of this and this is the first year the [Lisbon Regional School] board gave use a budget," said Mary Coleman.

With some assistance from school board member Wendy Ho-Sing-Loy, who Mary Coleman said has certifications in scuba diving, a future scuba expedition could be added to the PAWS list of adventures. PAWS students, who meet weekly during lunch, also perform community service by providing instruction for elementary school students.

Champagne, whose favorite PAWS experience was whitewater rafting, said she joined to work as a member on a team and pursue the adventure and activities she hadn't yet done outdoors.

"It's something we can take beyond school," she said, adding the big lesson learned is to "never give up and push yourself."

Griffin, who had outdoor experience before becoming a members of PAWS, joined to further his outdoor and leadership skills. He said his time on Juniper Island with the Coast Guard training stands out the most because he is looking at pursuing the Coast Guard as a career.

Rosebush enjoys ice climbing as well as the solo training in outdoor emergency care, an instructor of which is White Mountains SAU 35 Superintendent Paul MacMillan. PAWS instilled a goal-oriented determination that Rosebush said she will take with her after graduation.

"You have to self-motivate," Rosebush said. "Push through it even when you don't feel like it." While some hikes can be tough, Rosebush said, "You could stay behind, but you'll miss out on the view."

Also part of PAWS were three foreign exchange students from Israel, Germany and South Korea.

Champagne said while PAWS members are different in personality, everyone gets along well. "You have to trust each other," she said.

Rosebush enjoys the teamwork aspect.

"Kellee said go out and take the initiative and stay active and make connections you never break," said Rosebush.

Because of graduation, Mary Coleman said this year PAWS will lose seven seniors.

"You really become attached to these kids and see them grow," said Mary Coleman. "You see them incredibly excited."

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