Somers Point Schools Brave the Elements on Annual Trip to NJSOC

Erin Keller

Students practice using a compass during the Orienteering class.

The New Jersey School of Conservation was happy to welcome the students from the Somers Point School District for a week of engaging ecology classes and outdoor activities. This trip represents a long-standing dedication to environmental education by the teachers and administrators, and this year’s sixth grade class arrived in Stokes State Forest ready to take up the mantle. After an introduction to the school’s rules and faculty, the students took on to their first class: The Action Socialization Experiences, or ASE’s. During this team-building activity, each group rotated through a variety of challenges that pushed them to effectively communicate and cooperate to accomplish the task at hand. At the end of each challenge, they discussed the difficulties they faced in completing the challenge and how they might change things up for the next challenge. It became apparent by the end of the ASE’s that every group had learned about the importance of working as a team to meet the challenges that occur throughout our lives. After the ASE’s, the students split into smaller groups and rotated through a variety of other classes.

Stokes State Forest offers many trails to explore and the chance to marvel at the wonders of nature so available to us. During Forest Ecology, the students learned about how vital our local forests are to the health and stability of our environment. While hiking along some of our trails, the students stopped to discuss the fine balance of ecological relationships and interdependence between species. Conservation Photography offered the students a chance to capture a few of these relationships from their own, unique perspective. Afterwards, they picked their best image for printing and discussed the role of photography in the efforts to our natural areas.

Questing and Orienteering gave the sixth graders a closer look at the wilds around them. In both of these classes, the students got the chance to lead their groups on an expedition with only a few hints, a maps, and, in the case of orienteering, a compass to guide them. Once again they were challenged to find the fine balance between developing strong leadership skills and working as a cohesive team to find their way into and back out of the woods. Survival pushed the students’ capabilities and wilderness knowledge further. 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 multiple uses for a simple items.

Not only did the students get to explore the state forest, but they also learned about a few creatures that inhabit it. Black Bear Ecology and Beaver Ecology taught the students about the life history and habits of two of our furry neighbors. Each class started out with a discussion of different facets of each mammal’s life such as physiology, diet, behavior, and interactions with humans. The lesson then moved to a short hike to relevant sites on NJSOC’s campus to look for signs of recent bear and beaver activity in the area. At the end of the class, the students had a better knowledge of how important these forest mammals are to a healthy environment.

During their stay, the students learned about the history of the DeGroat family cabin during the  Pioneer Life class. Originally built around 1865 and historically restored on the grounds of NJSOC in 1975, the home of John DeGroat and his family offered the students a unique glimpse into the pre-industrial American lifestyle. After revisiting the four basic needs, the students discussed the challenges that early Americans would have had to overcome to obtain these needs each day. They then prepared “Johnnycakes” on a traditional cast-iron stove, fueled by wood they split from logs themselves.

The sixth graders tackled the issue of self-confidence at either the Confidence Course or the Climbing Wall. Regardless of their choice, each student was introduced to the School of Conservation’s policy of “challenge by choice”. Although we do not force anyone to attempt any of the elements, if the student makes the decision to try, we expect them to give 100% of their effort. Whether they faced the elevated wire and ropes of the Confidence Course or scaled one of the faces of our Climbing Wall, each student excelled and pushed the boundaries of their comfort zones. Only by stepping out of this zone are we able to build our confidence.

The educators and staff at the New Jersey School of a Conservation would like to thank the school coordinator, Devon Kallen, and all the teachers for making this visit a success! We wish the sixth grade class of Somers Point the very best in their future endeavors, and look forward to the arrival of next year’s students.