During the last week of March, two large groups of seventh graders from Stone Bridge Middle School traveled from Allentown, NJ to the School of Conservation for a short series of educational explorations in Stokes State Forest. Over the course of three days, these students braved unseasonably cold weather, made new friends, worked with their hands, and learned valuable lessons about humanity’s interactions with the natural world.
Stone Bridge’s students began their educational experience at Stokes State Forest with the Action Socialization Experiences (ASEs): a series of challenges tackled by small teams of ten to twelve students. These exercises are designed to help students cooperate with one another by granting them the opportunity to voice their opinions, brainstorm creatively, delegate tasks, and solve problems without direct adult leadership. These skills would prove to be very useful at two other sessions the students would soon encounter: the Confidence Course – a low ropes course designed to promote individual and group growth – and the Climbing Wall.
Over the next two days, the seventh graders from Allentown continued their exploration of Stokes State Forest in a variety of settings. In Pioneer Life and Native American Life, students delved into the complex relationship between New Jersey’s earliest human communities and their natural surroundings. “They’re kind of like two sides of the same story,” one student said of the two classes. “Both of them talked about how far away we are today from our natural environment, and how that’s so different from people who lived just a few hundred years ago.”
In addition to their forays into New Jersey’s human history, students had several opportunities to act as biologists. In Plant Life, they examined a variety of different plants common in northern New Jersey and observed the plant’s strategies for surviving in the harsh wintry weather. In Wildlife Ecology, students tramped along the SOC’s hiking trails while searching for signs of animal activity.
By the end of their stay, many students in Stone Bridge’s seventh grade had one wish. “Can we stay here longer?” one student asked me as they prepared to board their buses home. “I mean, we were only here for one night!” Unfortunately, as I told him, Stone Bridge had to make room for the subsequent student group from Jersey City. “Well, I’m going to argue for a longer trip next time,” he replied. “We should come up here more often!”
We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to Amy Hewitt, Stone Bridge’s trip coordinator, and to all of the teachers and parents who gave their time and energy to contribute to a successful trip for their students. We look forward to seeing Stone Bridge Middle School return next year!