On Wednesday May 8th, a group of 140 seventh grade students from Bordentown, NJ arrived at the New Jersey School of Conservation for a 3 day, 2 night, environmental educational experience in the pristine wilderness of Stokes State Forest. After the buses arrived in the late morning, the group participated in a campus orientation to learn about the history of Montclair State University’s field station and then ate a hearty lunch in Big Timbers. After the seventh graders finished eating, they went off to their first educational session of the trip. Not long after the groups arrived at their respective sessions, the thunderstorms that the staff, teachers, and students had been alerted to, arrived in full force. After nearly two weeks of draught here at the School of Conservation, 2 inches of much needed rain fell in only a couple of hours. The sessions for the early afternoon were put on hold as everyone escaped the thunderstorms and gathered in Longhouse, where the NJSOC staff guided the students through the Wildlife Challenge session. During Wildlife Challenge, Bordentown students assembled in small groups to study and plan presentations and skits on various wildlife species that are native to northern New Jersey habitats. The students had a great time sharing what they learned about the characteristics and behavior of beavers, white-tail deer, stink-pot turtles, coyotes, otters and red foxes with their classmates and teachers. The thunderstorms passed quickly and after only a couple of hours indoors, the students were able to get back outside and on the trails to continue with the scheduled outdoor educational sessions.
The NJSOC staff led sessions in an outdoor recreation and team-building experience at our multi-faced climbing wall, and also at our confidence course, a circuit of low-rope elements, to learn the importance of cooperation and trust, and to build personal confidence. Another group met at Lake Wapalanne's boat dock and had a great time learning to steer row boats and canoes, racing around our boating course, and searching for newts, turtles and fish. Other students had the opportunity to embrace their creative side and learn about the importance of art in nature and the aesthetic appreciation of the natural world in our popular Conservation Photography class. All of the groups participated in various A.S.E (Action Socialization Experience) challenges, which are problem-solving situations that encourage small groups of students to work cooperatively on a solution to a carefully designed problem and then carry out their plan of action as quickly and efficiently as possible. The Bordentown seventh graders then went off to dinner before learning about, viewing, and even handling snakes, tarantulas, and other critters at the Touch of Nature evening activity. After a long first day of educational fun at the School of Conservation, the students got some much needed sleep to prepare for their remaining time here in the forest.
On Thursday, the students were up bright and early for a full day of hiking, learning, and sharing with their teachers, friends, and NJSOC educators. During a morning and afternoon full of educational sessions, students worked on their shooting skills at the archery range and learned about the daily living skills and history of pre-industrial America in the Pioneer Life session, which takes place in the authentic 19th century hand-hewn log cabin. Fish Ecology was also on the agenda, where students participate in the capture, identification, weighing, measuring, and releasing of sunfish and largemouth bass in Lake Wapalanne. Thursday's activities ended with dinner and the annual Bordentown dance in Big Timbers.After an early breakfast on Friday morning, the students visited the campus trading post to purchase field guides, clothing, reusable water bottles and other gear to remind them of their trip to the School of Conservation and then participated in a New Games session in the Corral. Then the entire school gathered in Big Timbers one last time to reflect on the fun times they had and the important lessons they learned during their stay at the NJSOC. During the summation, awards were given to various students who stood out and shined during the trip, either for being exceptionally kind and caring towards their peers or for excelling in the various outdoor recreational challenges. All of the educators at the School of Conservation were sad to see the students and teachers of Bordentown leave campus. Everyone at the NJSOC had a great few days working with the seventh graders and were very happy with how the students embraced their three days of educational experiences at the university’s field station.