By Linda White
The good news is there were no bugs consumed during the 2015 JGMS Nature’s Classroom trip. The better news is that Nadine Coletta, sixth grade teacher and trip coordinator, reported students and faculty agreed “the trip was a unique and rewarding adventure for all involved.”
On Wednesday, October 21, 183 members of the JGMS Sixth Grade class with 19 faculty and staff chaperones (including Principal Kevin Tracey, teachers from most departments and disciplines and School Resource Officer Stephen Waite) departed Bedford aboard coaches and headed north to Ossipee Lake in Freedom, NH to participate in a two and a half day Nature’s Classroom experience. This was the third year JGMS students participated in a Nature’s Classroom. Ms. Coletta has been the coordinator of all three JGMS trips. She recalled, “The first year was characterized by freezing temperatures. The second year was defined by monsoon-like rain. This year’s weather was full of sunshine and the feeling of a perfect New England fall.”
For more than 40 years, the professional staff of Nature’s Classroom has provided over 750,000 students and teachers in more than 450 schools with an educational opportunity from another perspective, one that is outside the walls of the classroom. Ms. Coletta commented, “The components of a gorgeous natural setting, energetic and knowledgeable staff, new personal experiences, and an opportunity to explore nature and science topics in both small and large groups provided our students with a varied and memorable experience.” Sixth Grade student, Shun Isobe, added “It is not an experience you can have every day.”
Students and chaperones slept in bunk-house style cabins. For many students, this was their first experience of being away from home. Some parents may have noticed a “Dorothy effect” (“There’s no place like home.”) when their student returned. A 7:15 am wake-up call was followed by 8 am communal breakfast in the large, rustic dining hall and some time to clean up. Field Experiences began at 9:15 and were generally preceded by a shared game or song before the campers headed off to their large group activities. Nature’s Classroom publications cite, “One important goal of the morning field group is to give students a better understanding of dynamic interactions in the natural world, in social situations and even within themselves.”
Back to the dining hall for lunch at noon and some free time. Students then participated in two special interest time blocks that may have included Geodesic Dome Construction, Water Rockets, Get Lost (Map and Compass), Outdoor Cooking, Oil Games, Go with the Flow (Heart and Blood), Dissection, Incredible Edibles (Edible Plants), etc. Ellie Mitchell, Bedford’s own Euell Gibbons, participated in Incredible Edibles and sampled some of the East Hemlock leaves that “tasted like a pine tree.” She also participated in Outdoor Cooking and learned about making a fire and enjoyed cooking banana boats. You might want to ask her about the unique properties of Altoids.
Shun Isobe had fun participating in Geodesic Design and was surprised by the inability of a dollar bill to burn during The Oil Game session. Speaking of money, Shun commented that “While the cost of $275 to attend Nature’s Classroom was high, it was absolutely worth it.” Ms. Coletta reported that major funding for the trip (the Nature’s Classroom program, food, lodging, bus transportation, etc.) was covered by student families. The JGMS annual magazine sale, donations from the Middle School Parent Association (MSPA) and the school provided scholarships for students unable to afford the trip expense.
All attendees came together for dinner at 6 pm followed by some free time and an activity at 7:30 pm. One of the favorite night activities was the night walk/hike. Students listened for the night sounds of animals, star gazed, developed trust and also gained a bit of science information noting the effects of light on pupil dilation. Snacks were available at 9 pm followed by Quiet Sing at 9:15. Then it was back to the bunk house for some personal and social time before lights out at 11 pm. Some lights went out earlier than later, and it was reported that there was animated conversation and laughter in the air!
“The impact of Nature’s Classroom extends well beyond our time on site in New Hampshire. Students gain social experience (living and eating together, being away from home for the first time), participating in classes and activities, interacting with students they may not know well before the trip and developing confidence in their ability to adjust to new circumstances and environment. Faculty members and staff notice a difference when we return to school. There are more smiles and a sense of friendship in the hallways during class passing, in class rooms and in the cafeteria. I learned a lot about my students. I enjoyed getting to know them as people. The response from parents was very positive,” said Ms. Coletta.
JGMS Principal Tracey explained, “All of the credit for the launch of this phenomenal opportunity for our 6th graders goes to Ms. Coletta and the sixth grade staff. They saw the need for a team-building/educational experience for the kids early in their JGMS career to bookend our 8th grade Washington, D. C. trip. Having attended the Nature’s classroom trip and despite it occurring early in the 6th grade year, I can say that it is truly a pinnacle middle school experience and one we intend to be a tradition for many years.”
Ani Zildijian summarized her experience, “Nature’s Classroom was made up of outstanding people, food and fun outdoor experience. I loved learning in the woods and having daily hikes. The staff was so knowledgeable and I loved learning from them.” Additional student comments included: “It was like a huge sleepover! … The mountains were cool! … The big hide and seek game at the end was terrific. … I was a little sad to leave but also glad to go home. … It was good to play and be outside vs. inside.”
Nature’s Classroom experiences are available at 13 different locations in New York, New England and associated sites in other regions of the United States. For information about Nature’s Classroom – Freedom, NH, please visit: https://www.naturesclassroom.org/Freedom.htm