Teacher Triumphs on Tanzanian Trek

By Communication and Community Relations Staff
October 24, 2019

Pam ClingenpeelPam Clingenpeel never dreamed she’d be hiking through a jungle, fighting ice and windstorms or scaling peaks in Tanzania as she entered her 25th year of teaching with FCPS.  “It’s interesting,” she said, “While I challenge my students every day, encouraging them to try, to work hard, and to go the extra mile, I think I’d lost the will to push myself.” 

A lifelong athlete and physical education teacher at Lanier Middle, Clingenpeel had recently adjusted her lifestyle to focus on less strenuous hobbies, including geocaching in local parks and walking or hiking the hills of Fairfax County. But after deciding she was going to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro, she jumped back into preparation and training for the strenuous trek. 

“Just like in the classroom, it helps to do your homework, pay close attention to those that know more that we do, and be prepared,” she said about getting ready for the daunting hike on the other side of the world. Clingenpeel and a friend joined a small group with REI Adventures for an 11-day trip that included journeys through six varied ecosystems. Learning about flora, fauna, climate impact and change, and walking in the thin air for four to 12 miles each day provided an education and sparked a newfound appreciation for the luxuries of home. “It was very humbling. I never traveled much as a child,” she said, “but seeing women sweeping dust from a dirt road, making the most of their small earthen homes, and hearing the laughter and joy from children playing soccer with a wire-bound makeshift ball; it was truly special. I guess it made me question what do any of us really need and what does it take to make us happy?” 

In many ways, Clingenpeel likens her journey to that of what we strive for our students, as defined by our Portrait of a Graduate. “There were times I struggled and so wanted to give up—just like our students do sometimes—when things get really hard and really uncomfortable. I thought of them as I was exhausted, covered in ice, and almost falling asleep on my feet. The memory of telling them about the hike and their excitement about it all; I knew I couldn’t let them down.”