Bordentown Regional Middle Explores the Natural World at the New Jersey School of Conservation

Danny Cramer

Two students work together during Fish Ecology to census the fish in Lake Wapalanne using the traditional rod and reel method.

“Did you guys climb the wall?”

“Nah, we just had archery…I beat the teacher!”

“Wait, how come we didn’t get to do archery? We better get to do that tomorrow!”

“Yeah, well, we don’t get to do rock climbing. I wish we could stay here longer, then we could do everything.”

“Yeah, me too. I didn’t get to see half the classes!”

A large, enthusiastic group of seventh graders from Bordentown Regional Middle School arrived at the NJSOC on May 19th for three days of environmental education and teambuilding challenges. The excitement and creativity displayed by the students in each of their classes were matched only by their disappointment that they couldn’t stay in Stokes State Forest for at least a few more days.

They began their adventures at the School of Conservation with Action Socialization Experiences (ASEs): a rotation of puzzles and teambuilding exercises tackled by groups of ten to twelve students. The challenges differ in format but contain the same goal: each of them vividly demonstrates the importance of cooperation, trust, and effective communication. While the students may not have solved every puzzle they faced, they made important connections amongst themselves and gained valuable problem-solving skills along the way. Those connections were particularly useful at the Confidence Course, a low ropes course designed to promote individual and group growth in a safe, supportive setting.

Bordentown’s seventh grade continued its explorations in Stokes State Forest in a diverse smorgasbord of educational and recreational classes. In Fish Ecology, Water Ecology, and Boating, students explored the aquatic landscape of the NJSOC’s Lake Wapalanne while learning about the plants and animals that depend on the abundance of clean, unpolluted water in the northwest New Jersey wilderness. In Conservation Photography, students had the opportunity to extend their explorations of land, lake, and stream into the aesthetic realm. As is the case in many of the NJSOC’s classes, each student came away with a small piece of memorabilia: one small, framed photograph that they had taken during the photography class.

In addition to the science classes, many students had the opportunity to spend time honing their aim at the NJSOC’s archery range, while others tested their nerves by climbing the outdoor rock wall. “I can’t believe I actually just did that,” one student said while peering up at the top of the 35-foot wall. “Like, no joke, it actually seems scarier down here than it did up there!”

Even though their visit lasted only three days, Bordentown’s teachers and students reported that their time at the NJSOC was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity for both personal and academic growth. “I never get to see any of this stuff,” one student told me as I showed him a red-spotted newt. “I’m definitely going to look at the woods way differently now.”

We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to Sam Tola 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 Bordentown Regional Middle School return next year!