The three were among 64 Kickemuit Middle School seventh-graders who recently returned from a five-day trip to Nature’s Classroom, an overnight, five-day “school” held in the woods of Groton, Mass., north of Boston in early November.
Kickemuit teachers have been taking their students to Nature’s Classroom for about eight to 10 years and they do it, one said, because it gives kids a completely different perspective on learning, the environment, and growing up.
“It’s one thing to read about invasive species or to read a map in class, trying to figure out directions,” said Dayna Achilli, a language arts teacher who was one of four teachers on the trip. “But to go out into the woods, onto the trails and use a compass to get back, is totally different. Just to see wildlife, and learn how to live together for a week, it’s a learning experience.”
It was fun, but it wasn’t all easy. Students had to give up their cell phones at the beginning of the trip, though they were each given a small, disposable film camera. They lived together in cabin-type dorms, and the camp’s structure forced them to think independently, coordinate shower and other schedules with their cabin mates, and come up with their own solutions to problems in class and out. Throughout there were lessons, experiments, team building exercises, lectures and presentations.
“For some of them, this was the first time these kids have been away from home,” Dr. Achilli said. “It was learning independence and working with others that really opened some eyes.”
During the day, students signed up for classes that interested them and worked with Nature’s Classroom staff, their fellow students and Kickemuit teachers on various projects, from building hot air ballons to constructing a geodesic dome.They took hikes in the woods, learned to look out for native wildlife — lots of hawk and deer were spotted — and were taught about building a shelter and the basics of tracking and woodland navigation. At night, they watched presentations and performed improv comedy skits.
Even the things that seemed gross or difficult ended up being cool. For instance, Caroline didn’t look forward to dissecting a rat, one of the required activities. But by the time she finished the task, “I thought it was cool. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know.”
“There was some specific stuff we learned, but we just learned a lot of different things,” added Johnny Molloy. “When we went on hikes, it was really fun. I never thought I’d make it through a whole week without electronics; I thought I would miss my Playstation, but I didn’t even think about it.”
One of Madeleine Green’s favorite parts was the night hiking, and one of her least, obviously, was the shower schedule. “There was like maybe 15 girls in the dorm, so you had to coordinate it. But it was so much fun and everyone worked together.”
“It was awesome,” Caroline added. “The whole thing was really cool. It got me to step out of my box a little. I knew it was going to be really fun, but when we got there it was like, ‘Wow!’ With all of us living in one big cabin you had to fend for yourself. That was a little bit tricky, but we got the hang of it.”
It cost about $12,000 to send the students to the session, which was raised through fund-raisers and a $4,250 grant from the Bristol Warren Education Foundation. Much of the students’ fund-raising came from a Yankee Candle sale held last month.