In the Depths of Winter…

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Depths of Winter, Miniwanca

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

-Albert Camus

Margaret “Gigs” Hoerner is long-time Miniwanca Girl. A camper for eight years, Gigs went on to become an LIT and cabin leader at Miniwanca, and a Four Trails leader at both Merrowvista and Miniwanca. Gigs spent three years working through Teach For America in Lawrence, Massachusetts and is now a teacher at Match Community Day School in Boston.  We reached out to Gigs earlier this fall and asked her to write about how her time at Miniwanca has allowed her to find the “invincible summer” inside of her. 


Although seemingly opposite at a first glance, my 15 sandy, invincible summers with the AYF fuel my work as an elementary school teacher in an urban school during the icy, winter months of Boston. Throughout the year, I am faced with the pressures and high-stakes testing that all educators encounter in our nation. Additionally, I grapple with the challenges that come with working alongside resilient children who have endured poverty and trauma at such a young age. It is my inner cabin leader and trip leader that enable me to effectively lead my classroom, support children in discovering their personal best, and find immense joy amidst the intersection of the educational inequity, social injustice, and systematic racism. Against this backdrop, my students and I frequently break out in camp songs, our classroom rules are rooted in “best self”, we hold class assemblies with cheers, begin our school day with “Morning Stretch” and close our day with “Action Awards”.

When the reality of the opportunity gap hits me as I examine test scores that are significantly lower than our more affluent neighboring district, my soul shaped by the AYF forces me to feel urgent, rather than defeated. I never anticipated that the 14 broken spokes of my Odyssey in 2009 or the 7 straight days of rain in the Georgian Bay as a leader nearly 10 years later would spark this urgency to stand, smile, and live even taller when handed difficult results.

When I entered urban education as a 21-year-old with a crisp bike-short tan after leading an Odyssey, my colleagues warned me “to never smile before Christmas.” Not surprisingly, the AYF had taught me the opposite for over a decade so I sided with the latter. As a result, I admittedly struggled with classroom management at first, yet I firmly believe it is through “lasering with love” (as Liz Marshall would say) and the same smile that radiates when I scream

Founder Hearts at the top of my lungs, that have ultimately allowed me to build strong relationships with my students and their families. This same smile reached a former student who mastered long division after years of falling below grade level in math.

Now that students think of me as the teacher who does “crazy” things over the summer, teaches main idea using her bike tire, and has grown accustomed to comments from 5th graders on my Chaco-tan paired with a pencil skirt in August, I know there is no turning back. I have accepted a dare and hope to lead a school modeled after the AYF someday. Ever since I was a 5th grade Darer and now as a 5th grade teacher, I’ve come to the conclusion that Miniwanca and Merrowvista are not confined to geographic locations. Instead, they exist to be carried with us and planted in unexpected places like the concrete in one of the poorest sections of Boston, in my case. For me, invincible camp summers fill my “teacher tank” so that I can help fuel the engines inside 25 huge hearts and curious minds.

-Margaret “Gigs” Hoerner