During the second week of April, eighty fifth grade students from John Adams Elementary School traveled from North Brunswick to the New Jersey School of Conservation for a short series of educational explorations in Stokes State Forest. Over the course of three days and two nights, they made connections amongst themselves, tackled teambuilding exercises, worked with their hands, and learned valuable lessons about humanity’s interactions with the environment.
John Adams’ students began their educational experience at the SOC with 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. While the students may not have immediately solved each puzzle set before them, they made important connections amongst themselves and learned the value of teamwork and effective communication.
These skills would prove to be especially useful at the Confidence Course – a low ropes course designed to promote individual and group growth – and at the climbing wall. The fifth-graders further honed their senses of teamwork and communication in Orienteering and Wilderness Survival, two classes which provide students with the opportunity to work as a team in order to successfully navigate through the wilderness. “It’s like a sport,” one student told me at the end of her Orienteering class. “You have to keep your head up and play smart in order to survive.”
The students continued their explorations of Stokes State Forest in Boating and Stream-Geo Ecology, two classes which allow students to study the aquatic world at the SOC. Those experiences helped them understand the importance of water in the natural life cycle in a novel, more vivid way. “You can tell students all you want about pollution,” one teacher explained to me. “But what’s great about this experience is the kids can see it, up close, for themselves.”
John Adams’ students also delved into the human realm in Colonial Woodworking, in which small groups of students learned how to use pre-Industrial woodworking tools. By the end of each session, every single student had personally crafted a small item using their new skills. Finally, several groups had the opportunity to contemplate life on the frontier in Pioneer Life, a class held in the 150 year-old DeGroat Cabin. As is the case with the entire curricula at the School of Conservation, students in this class spent their time learning actively: they chopped wood, helped cook cornbread, and sampled some homemade butter. “I think I would have liked living back then,” one student told me. “It was really hard, sure, and it was cold, and you didn’t have electricity…” He paused. “Well, maybe I wouldn’t want to live back then.” He added quickly, “It’s still really fun to learn about, though.”
We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to Jacalyn Serviss, John Adams’ 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 John Adams Elementary again soon!