Netcong’s Seventh-Graders Make Connections in Stokes State Forest

Local school brings students to Montclair State University's New Jersey School of Conservation

Danny Cramer

Students have hands-on experience during the Colonial Woodworking class

The second week of May brought the telltale signs of spring to the New Jersey School of Conservation: birdsongs, warmer weather, the first flowering of trees and plants, and a short visit from Netcong Elementary’s fabulous seventh grade. Over the course of three days and two nights, they made new friends, tackled teambuilding exercises, worked with their hands, and learned valuable lessons about humanity’s interactions with the environment.

As Netcong Elementary is just thirty miles south of the SOC campus, these students arrived with a great deal of knowledge about Stokes State Forest’s flora and fauna. As one student told me, “most of us go hiking or hunting or fishing around here, so we know a lot already, you know, like what a black bear looks like, and how you catch frogs and salamanders.” Netcong’s students put their familiarity with their surroundings to good use in Stream-Geo Ecology, a hands-on outdoor science class in which students learn about watersheds and the importance of ensuring that our water supply is free of contaminants. “At my house we use well water,” one student explained during the wrap-up section of the class. “So for us it’s really important that we don’t pollute; otherwise, we’ll be the ones drinking bad water.”

Netcong’s seventh-graders also excelled in their teambuilding exercises, an aspect of the trip that Gina Szjareko, Netcong’s trip coordinator, described as being “absolutely essential for our students.” Once the students leave the classroom, Szjareko explained, “they are a little freer, and they learn more about themselves and more about each other.” The cornerstone of the SOC’s teambuilding exercises are Group Initiatives, a series of group challenges designed to promote group cohesion and problem-solving skills. 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 values were further reinforced at the Confidence Course, a low ropes course which allows students reach outside their comfort zones in a safe and supportive group setting.

In Colonial Woodworking, students had the opportunity to work with their hands, learn about the history of woodworking, and create a small project to take home with them as a souvenir. Unsurprisingly, the Netcong crew was industrious and very creative: a small sampling of the projects completed includes coat hangers, pencil holders, picture frames, a sailboat, and a smiley-face. “This was really hard, and we were only making one little thing,” one student told me. “I can see why stuff was so valuable to people back then.”

We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to Gina Szjareko and to all of the chaperones who gave their time and energy to provide a successful trip for their students. We look forward to seeing Netcong Elementary return next year!