Ho-Ho-Kus School District Continues Their Long Tradition of Environmental Education

Montclair State University's School of Conservation welcomes the students and teachers from Ho-Ho-Kus to Stokes State Forest.

Erin Keller

The Students enjoy some time on Lake Wapalanne

The New Jersey School of Conservation was happy to welcome the students from the Ho-Ho-Kus School District once again for a week of outdoor eduation and nature-based lessons. It was clear from the moment they stepped off the bus that this year’s sixth grade class was eager to continue the tradition of learning about the natural environment. After an introduction to the school’s rules and faculty, the students all headed to their first challenge: The Action Socialization Experiences, or ASE’s. During this team-building activity, each group rotates through a series of timed team-building challenges that require them to exchange ideas and create coordinated plans to achieve their goals. At the end of each challenge, they discussed the problems they faced in communicating and cooperating, and brainstormed ways to improve on the next task. Once they had made their way through the challenges, they came together and highlighted individuals in each group that had provided insightful ideas or stepped up to make significant contributions. Emboldened by their peers’ encouragement, the students were ready to make the most of their classes at Montclair State University’s environmental field station.

Over the course of their three day visit, the students were challenged to push themselves in various ways. On our Climbing Wall and Confidence Course, each individual was introduced to the School of Conservation’s policy of “challenge by choice”. Individuals have different skills and abilities that they can bring to a team setting, and so we all have different limits when it comes to challenging situations. The students choose whether or not to try their hand at the climbing wall or the confidence course. However, once they choose to participate, we expect them to give a one hundred percent effort. It was very apparent that every student from Ho-Ho-Kus put their best effort forward and rose to the challenge.

During the Water Ecology class, the students identified natural water sources and learned how the quality of our streams and lakes can have repercussions on the well-being of our natural environment, and the humans that occupy it! The students then analyzed a local stream using a set of chemical tests and by looking for and identifying the macroinvertebrates inhabiting the stream. The presence or absence of certain species can reveal much about stream health at different times of the year. During their debrief, the students were challenged to use their newfound knowledge to educate others and change water consumption habits at home. 

Lake Wapalanne is an ideal environment for a number of different amphibian and aquatic species. The students had a chance to get a better glimpse of our water-dwelling neighbors during their Boating session. After learning the different strokes with the paddles and the different parts of the canoe, they worked together to carry and launch the boats as teams. It wasn't long until their more competitive sides came out and soon races began skimming from one side of the lake to the other. Despite some untimely changes in weather, the students kept up their good spirits and didn't let rain dampen their moods.

During Survival, the students hiked along the Flat Brook and learned important skills to remember in life-threatening situations. Their first lesson? DON’T PANIC! Panicking can not only cause us to waste precious time and energy, but it can also lead to injury and a worsening of the situation. The trick is to focus on and prioritize our four basic needs: air, shelter, food and water. Improvisation is also a vital skill in wilderness survival, so the students each took turns suggesting unique uses for the small set of items they were presented with. Finally, the class learned the basics of shelter building and tried their hand at constructing one with only the resources that nature provides.

The Orienteering class offers another important set of skills for navigating the wilder places of our planet. The students were introduced to the parts of a compass and learned how to set or determine a bearing based on land markings. After that, their new abilities were tested by receiving a bearing from an instructor and one-by-one leading the group from point to point along our orienteering course. Along the way, they learned how to determine their pace length and how to determine the accuracy of a landmark by using a “back bearing.” The students successfully navigated their way back to the School of Conservation and gained an appreciation for the skill needed to navigate by compass through the wilderness.

“Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt” are the main tenants of New Games. The students warmed up quickly in the cold weather while taking part in these activities. The games optimize engagement and active motion over competition, making them ideal for getting your blood pumping between classes. After stopping by the Trading Post for souvenirs to remember their trip, the students of Ho-Ho-Kus were ready to head home. Hopefully, sweatshirts and pictures are not the only things they carried back with them.

All of the instructors and staff of NJSOC would like to wish the students the very best of luck in their studied back at school. We would also like to thank the coordinators, Chris Kumar and Katie Gwynne, and all of the teachers on the trip for another successful visit. We look forward to hosting the next generation of sixth graders next year at the NJ School of Conservation.