The Mountains Are Calling
Gray Bees explore Wyoming thanks to Jim and Judy Dorsey
Whoa. That was the collective reaction of 11 Gray Bees when they stepped onto the tarmac of Jackson Hole Airport on July 6. The terrain literally stopped the group — who had come to Wyoming for a week of exploration and learning — in their tracks. Instead of a landscape defined by the New Jersey Turnpike, there was the Teton Range. Big, blue sky. And wide, open spaces as far as the eye can travel.
“I was in awe,” said Amberlee Castillo ’23. Like most of the students on the trip, this was Amberlee’s first time traveling west of the Rockies. “I felt very thankful in that moment looking at the sky, the mountains and the reactions of others around me. I felt very connected to the place and people.”
“I was mesmerized,” recalled Jonathan Martinez ’25. The UDI developed a keen interest in animals and nature at an early age but had only hiked and camped in the northeast. Exploring other regions of the country “was something I thought I could do as an adult. As a high school student, it was really awesome to have the opportunity to go to Wyoming now.”
Invitation to Wyoming
The opportunity to explore and learn about Wyoming came about thanks to the generosity of Judy and Jim Dorsey. The couple spent many summers in the state and moved to the Jackson Hole area nine years ago. Jim, the Chairman of JMJ Capital, discovered St. Benedict’s Prep when “60 Minutes” aired a profile of The Hive in 2016. “It got me misty eyed,” he remembered. Having grown up in a diverse, blue collar Chicago neighborhood, he appreciated the values professed by the kids, Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B. ’63 and others in the segment.
The Dorseys became donors and after reading the New York Times story about The Trail, wanted to help underwrite additional outdoor learning opportunities for St. Benedict’s students. “What if the kids all came out here?” Mr. Dorsey suggested to get the program off the ground. Mrs. Dorsey researched organizations that could house the group of students and faculty chaperones for the week. She connected with Teton Science Schools (TSS), a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to place-based education in partnership with Grand Teton National Park, which enriched the seven-day experience immeasurably.
On Top of the World
The inaugural group included UDIs, UDIIs and seniors from the Boys and Girls Prep Divisions, plus Dexter Lopina ’98, Director of Technology, and Biology Teacher Danielle Laube. They lodged in cabins on the Kelly Campus of TSS, located on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park. The itinerary was educational, eye opening and fun. With TSS field instructors as their guides, Gray Bees conducted fieldwork on the Kelly Campus, hiked in Grand Teton, camped three days and two nights in Yellowstone National Park and went white water rafting on the Snake River. The Dorseys invited the Gray Bees to their ranch for a barbeque and Mr. Dorsey took the group horseback riding.
Students saw a lot of native wildlife. Antelopes, elk, bison, black bears and even grizzly bears were spotted from a safe distance. One morning in Yellowstone, the group pulled over for breakfast and were delayed because of a traffic jam involving a herd of bison. “That never happens in New Jersey,” said Andrew Gomez ’24, who recounted the story. Jonathan and Amberlee described a hike to the summit of a mountain in the Grand Teton as one of many highlights of the trip. “We kept falling and catching each other, but made it up to the top,” said Jonathan. “Looking out, you can see everything, the view was crazy,” Amberlee added. “You literally felt like you were on top of the world.”
One unexpected outcome was the depth to which the Gray Bees bonded during their week away. The students represent a range of grades and two single sex divisions and are also involved in different activities. Once they arrived in Jackson Hole, TSS staff collected students’ mobile phones for the week. Jonathan wondered, “How am I going to function without my phone?” After the first night, he didn’t miss it.
Neither did anyone else. “I’ve never seen so much talking among kids in person,” observed Mr. Lopina. “They were making memories. [Taking the phones] was definitely the right move to look up and see what was around.”
Wyoming Influences Taking Shape
Now that they’re back, students are still talking about the Wyoming experience, which the Dorseys and St. Benedict’s hope to turn into an annual trip. “People who met these kids want to get involved,” said Mr. Dorsey. He can envision more opportunities for Gray Bees that involve mentoring or building trails in national parks. For now, they are delighted to have helped this group of curious kids see a bigger world beyond city life and show them a good time. “You never know how it might impact someone in the future,” Mrs. Dorsey said.
Some of the trip’s influences are already taking shape. Ms. Laube, for instance, is using what the group experienced in biology classes. “We spent a lot of time on what kids and adults could do to preserve ecosystems and prevent climate change,” she noted. Jonathan would like to return to Wyoming. “I learned I definitely want a future in wildlife,” he stated. Andrew, too, is interested in a career that takes him into nature. “I was thinking a lot out there about how cool investigating wildlife would be or to be out in the field doing research,” he said. “That’s something I can imagine myself doing in the future.” Amberlee, meanwhile, took inspiration from the TSS field instructors. “I hope I end up like that one day, where I can be in my career, love it and have such a passion that I go out of my way to make others understand why I feel like that and how they can help.”
All expressed gratitude to the Dorseys for underwriting the experience and sharing their love of Wyoming. “They were so welcoming and introduced us to a lot of different people and opportunities,” said Jonathan. “The Dorseys positivity was very contagious,” said Amberlee. “We’re all still talking about the trip now. We’re all very grateful we got to have this experience.”
“I think it’s really amazing what they did,” said Andrew. “If I were ever in the position of the Dorseys in the future, I would do the same because it allows students like me to experience something new and different. It’s also an experience that can help spread awareness of the environment, and in turn, creates a more healthy ecosystem.”