Seventh Graders from Jefferson Middle School Play, Learn, Grow in the Snow

Danny Cramer

Students enjoy a snow-sculpture competition

“Does it snow up here all the time, or just now?”

“Who won the snow sculpture contest?”

“Can we have a snowball fight?”

“How do you stop on cross-country skis?”

“Can we see bears, even though there’s snow?”

“How do squirrels stay warm?”

“You guys, he can’t answer every question at once.”

“But I want to know how squirrels stay warm! Aren’t they freezing?”

The last of three seventh-grade groups from Jefferson Middle School traveled to the New Jersey School of Conservation for two days of environmental education classes amid six inches of fresh, mid-December snow. Although the trip leaders had planned on participating in similar classes as Jefferson’s previous groups, the arrival of a severe winter storm necessitated a reshuffled, snow-appropriate class schedule. As a result, Jefferson’s seventh-graders became the first group of the academic year to participate in the NJSOC’s snow activities, or “snowtivities”: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sculpture-building. The harsh winter weather represented a serious challenge for the seventh graders, and yet it also served as an excellent stimulant for their creativity and their curiosity.

They began their classes with a short round of Action Socialization Experiences (ASEs): a series of challenges tackled by teams of ten to twelve students. 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 very useful over the next two days as they worked together to stay warm, learn about the environment, and develop new outdoor skills.

Refusing to let the snow drive them indoors, Jefferson’s seventh graders spent the following days exploring various parts of the School of Conservation’s campus. They searched for birds in Ornithology, learned to navigate as a team in the woods in Orienteering, gained valuable survival skills in Wilderness Survival, and studied New Jersey’s black bear population in Black Bear Ecology. They delved into the human realm during Pioneer Life, a class held in the 150-year-old DeGroat Cabin. Students ate homemade cornbread, completed household chores, and contemplated life without the X-Box. Students also had the opportunity to take photographs in Conservation Photography, thus capturing a part of their experience in one small, snow-filled frame.

We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to Kevin Moore, Jefferson’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 Jefferson Middle School return next year!