Newport sophomores are learning ways to not only survive, but thrive when faced with challenging situations through a unit focused on the book “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales.
“’Deep Survival’ is true accounts of dire survival situations and gives you tips and advice on how you should be surviving them,” said sophomore Cynthia Chung. “The book builds a foundation for the unit and for how you should be applying the things you learn in your own life, not just in an English class, but in our everyday situations and struggles.”
The unit is taught by English teacher Kim Driscoll who developed it four years ago as an extra credit assignment. Through a PTSA grant, Driscoll received 30 copies of the book to pilot the project. The PTSA generously supported funding more copies of the book for all Driscoll’s sophomores, allowing the project to expand, and it is now part of the yearly curriculum for all of Driscoll’s students.
“’Deep Survival’ is a pretty difficult non-fiction text and we know that colleges are telling us they want our students to read more difficult non-fiction texts,” said Driscoll. “Although the Lexile level is pretty high, because it’s high-interest and you are reading very engaging stories about either survival or tragedy, students are more willing to put in the time and effort with the higher Lexile score.”
“The academic goal for the unit is to improve students listening, speaking, and writing skills,” said Driscoll. “The life goal is to create this opportunity for shared humanity where students hear stories from family members and community members about hardships they’ve experienced, what they’ve learned from those hardships.”
During the unit, students also hear from guest speakers, interview survivors and apply survival strategies from “Deep Survival” to their own lives.
Robert Clark was one guest speaker during the semester who shared his story of becoming blind during his college years.
“When challenges come, you get two choices,” said Clark. “You’re either going to reject a challenge and you’re going to become very hard, cold and bitter and you’re going to stay stuck for the rest of your life, or you’re going to embrace it and move forward.”
Clark lives by four T’s: Try, Trust, Teachable and Teamwork.
“Trying means not giving up and not letting anybody tell you that you cannot,” said Clark. “Trusting is allowing to rely upon someone or something totally. Being teachable is being willing to learn to do something new in a different way because you can’t always do it the same way as others and that’s okay. Then being a member on a team as you communicate and listen.”
Clark’s presentation was one way for students to connect the text and concepts learned to the real world, and also helped them prepare for their own interviews with survivors.
Survivor Interviews & Personal Application
Each student interviewed a survivor, whether that was a family member, friend or community member. The goal of the interview process was to learn more about survivor characteristics, apply the concepts from the book to an individual in the greater community and then self-reflect on how they as students can employ survivor characteristics in their own lives.
Sophomore Kevin Schmidt and a classmate Sarah Quinn chose to interview a community member who coped with losing a child. Together they determined concepts to focus on from “Deep Survival” and then formulated 10 questions related to the concepts.
Following the interview, Schmidt self-reflected about the process.
“I learned more about how I can do these things in my life even though I am not faced with a life and death situation. These concepts aren’t just for survivors, but they are for all people,” he said.
Concepts from “Deep Survival” apply to Schmidt’s life when he’s on the tennis court.
“I get in slumps sometimes where I miss a lot of shots and then I get mad at myself and get in my head,” he said. “A concept from ‘Deep Survival’ is staying calm and making a plan. That concept can help when you’re lost in the mountains and don’t know what to do, but also keeping calm during a match, thinking about my next shot, not getting in my head; it’s helpful.”
Chung also found several ways to apply “Deep Survival” concepts to her own life. Specifically she uses mantras while driving and parking in tight spaces since she gets anxious as a new driver.
“I hadn’t thought about using mantras before, but I found that when parking if I am using a mantra like ‘just a little more, I’m almost there’ repeatedly that I find that parking is a little bit easier and I have less anxiety,” she said. “I tend to give up less halfway through parking and that is really useful.”
After reading the book, Driscoll built this unit from the ground up because she believed it would be invaluable for students, in both their academic and personal lives.
“Out of all the books I’ve read this is honestly my favorite,” said sophomore Ria Mehrotra. “It has really stuck with me, really meant something to me, because even though I don’t have this huge story about how I almost died, these concepts can still apply to me and, I think, can apply to anyone. As long as someone is willing to do all the things that are said in the book, then I think they will be a lot happier and a lot more likely to succeed.”