Smedley Elementary School travels to Stokes State Forest for Environmental Education Program

Part of the Mastery Charter Schools of Philadelphia, the Smedley School visits Montclair State University's New Jersey School of Conservation for an outdoor educational experience

Stephanie Sherman

NJSOC educator, Walt Myers, helps a student during the Fish Ecology class.

“I believe, I believe she will succeed!” was the phrase chanted from the Climbing Wall of the New Jersey School of Conservation on Thursday, May 8th as the Smedley Charter School began its first round of classes. After a three hour trip braving the traffic and GPS directions from Philadelphia, the sixth graders arrived just in time for lunch.  The children quickly stowed their bags in the cabins above Lake Wapalanne, grabbed a rain jacket just in case, and split into their activity groups for the afternoon.

                  For some, they began their adventure on the barricaded road with a team-building activity called Group Initiatives.  Working together as a team, the students were given various challenges to address while learning how to effectively communicate and interacted with one another. While huddling together at the “All Aboard” challenge, and then holding that huddle for a group count of ten, may have been a piece of cake, but other challenges required more team work.  Students needed to find a new strategy for communicating with their blindfolded partners while creating a square from a straight rope during the “Blind Square” challenge.  Everyone had a great time at the Cargo Net activity where students loved being hoisted into a giant hammock by their friends and front flipping out on the other side.

                  Moving on from the hemlock groves of the team-building area, the Smedley students hiked to the NJSOC beach for Fish Ecology. Learning briefly about the anatomy of fish and how they survive in their watery homes, the children partnered up with a fishing pole and headed out to survey the fish living in Lake Wapalanne. Casting their hotdog laden hooks from the shore, many of the students caught their first fish ever by watching the red and white bobbers bounce in the water. Here at the NJSOC we have some feisty fish that surprised the students as they flopped around during processing. The students identified the species of sunfish from Bluegill or Pumpkinseed and recorded the length and weight before setting their friend free back into the lake. Other students learned the meaning behind the sport being called “fishing” and not “catching” as the tricky fish nibbled away the hotdogs from their hooks without getting caught. Either way, by the end of the day the sun was breaking through the clouds and shining down on the beach, making for a clear evening sky for the nighttime campfire at Piney Point.

                  The early morning showers departed in time for the Smedley students to have their last round of classes. The NJSOC environmental educators were pleased to see the students rally together at the Climbing Wall as each person did their personal best while climbing the wall. Both the students and teachers got in on the action by cheering on their friends along with the occasional chant that could be heard by all the other classes around the campus. We believe the Smedley students will succeed in anything they put their minds and hearts to, and we hope they come to stay with us again very soon.