Jefferson Township Middle School's "Gold" Team visits Montclair State University Field Station For Environmental Studies

The seventh graders from JTMS enjoy environmental experience in Stokes State Forest

Christopher Shea

Students build confidence on the Confidence Course

The Jefferson Township Middle School returned to the New Jersey School of Conservation for their final three-day environmental field trip of the school year. Upon arrival the seventh graders unloaded their gear and moved into the cabins which they would call home for the next few days. After meeting the NJSOC faculty, the students began their outdoor educational experience with the Action Socialization Experiences or ASE’s. At the ASE’s the students are tasked with working together to solve a series of mental and physical group challenges. These challenges are designed to test their communication skills and teamwork, contributing to a strong foundation that will help them succeed in the future as students and professionals.

The Jefferson seventh graders had a variety of outdoor experiential learning opportunities throughout the week thanks to the tireless efforts of Mrs. Julie Kozakewich, the Jefferson coordinator. Working closely with NJSOC education coordinator, Lisa Mills, Ms. Kozakewich carved out the student’s agenda for the week which included Pioneer Life, Questing, Survival, Conservation Photography, Confidence Course and Web of Life. Additionally, Ms. Kozakewich arranged for the evening educational program featuring guest speaker Mr. Jerry Zelenka, who presented the students with a variety of live animal specimens while discussing the importance of biodiversity.

During the Pioneer Life class, students had a first-hand experience on just how tough life was in the 1800’s before the industrial revolution. The class was held in the DeGroat Cabin, an original family home from 1865. Inside the DeGroat Cabin the students learned just how much physical labor was involved in all aspects of securing the three basic needs for survival: Food, Water and Shelter. The students split wood to fuel their fire, and collected Sugar Maple sap for maple sugaring. They then took to the stove to cook delicious pioneer-style Johnny Cakes that they enjoyed with maple syrup made on the NJSOC campus.

After understanding life as a pioneer, students took their new-found knowledge to the Survival Class. This class focused on how to gather and preserve our three basic needs in a life or death emergency situation. The students learned valuable skills to help ensure survival in extreme conditions. These skills enforced the important lessons of remaining calm, planning, prioritizing and improvising. At the end of class the students were put into a survival simulation, where they were stranded in the mountains of Northern New Jersey after surviving a plane crash. The students had to strategize how to survive using only the items on their person and a few items that escaped the wreckage. To end the class the students navigated out of the woods and back to the NJSOC campus.

During the Web of Life class, the Jefferson seventh graders learned the core aspects of Stokes State Forest wildlife ecology. First they participated in a discussion about energy transfer through the trophic levels from producers to top level consumers. These included herbivores, omnivores and predators in Stokes State Forest. Prepped for competition, the students were each assigned a role in the food web and were sent outside for an ecological simulation in the form of a game of tag. The goal was to collect all the basic needs for survival and live out the round without being eaten by a predator.

After three days full of environmental educational experiences, the Jefferson seventh graders moved out of their cabins and boarded the bus for their trip back to Jefferson Township Middle School. The educators at the School of Conservation enjoyed working with the bright Jefferson students. The students left the School of Conservation with a firm grasp on the importance of protecting our natural environment and the role that humans must play in doing so. We look forward to the return of the Jefferson Township Middle School groups next school year!