Cell Phone Break Elevates Yosemite Experience

Sarah Naughten and Amanda Young

50 seniors and 5 teachers attended the annual Yosemite Institute trip from January 12 to January 18. Like the philosophers of the transcendentalist movement would have hoped, many students took the trip as an opportunity to disconnect from social media and gain a greater appreciation for nature.

According to a study conducted by education company Common Sense Media, which surveyed 2,600 adolescents, teens spend almost 9 hours per day using media, including listening to music, watching videos, and browsing social networking apps.

History teacher Tom Renno, who was 1 of the chaperones on the annual visit to the national park, said that the trip has banned cell phones “for the past couple of years” because “we want students to disconnect from the stresses of back home and be able to think about their place in the world at this particular time. We find that getting rid of your cell phone allows you to do that.”

The trip helped senior Ally Lee realize the impact that social media has on her daily life. “I learned that I am on my phone a lot, which I already knew, but I learned how much it can benefit me from not being around it so much,” said Lee.

Lee added that “being away from our phones really took us away from…being so focused on what’s going on on the internet and so we were really forced to live our lives.”

“I think [the trip] was really eye-opening for me,” said senior Pablo Ngyuen. “I’ve never really gone to a place like Yosemite before where you are just surrounded by nature and you can really just sit by yourself sometimes and just think and examine your surroundings.” 

“I think it’s really hard, especially today, to come by really good secluded spots in nature, where you can really appreciate because there is always going to be roads or people around you, but out there you can sit by yourself and you won’t hear a single person or a single car and it is literally just silence in nature,” Ngyuen added. 

Lee agreed. “I would say that I have a new appreciation for the outdoors because I would go on hikes every so often, but this trip really taught me to take a break every once in a while. And to appreciate the real world, not just what is going on in school,” she said.

The group stayed in Curry Village for the duration of the trip. Students explored famous trails such as Yosemite Falls, Tuolumne Grove, El Capitan Meadow, and Mirror Lake. 

Besides completing journal entries and participating in group discussions, the students were given time to bond and relax. 

For Ngyuen and Lee, a highlight of the trip was a snowball fight that was “at least half an hour long,” according to Ngyuen.

“Pablo was the king of the snowball fights,” said Lee. “No one could compare.”

The students also enjoyed bonding with their teachers. “I spend time with Campo students all the time but being with the teachers in an environment that’s not a classroom is a lot of fun because then I connected to them on a casual level, not a teacher-student level,” Lee said. 

According to Lee, 1 night, Renno taught the students a game called Bob the Weasel. “It’s like a chant,” explained Lee. “So 1 night at 9:40, everyone was in their cabins at quiet time and everyone started screaming ‘Bob the weasel,’ the chant.” 

“At first I was like, ‘Do I want to miss a week of school right after break?’” Lee admitted. “But, it was amazing. It definitely lives up to the hype.

“Mrs. Kelson did say, ‘Oh this trip changes people’s lives,’ and I think this trip changed my life,” added Lee.