In late March, The New Jersey School of Conservation welcomed the students and teachers from Fairfield Middle School for three days of outdoor environmental activities and classes. This year’s trip carries on a twenty-three-year-old tradition, highlighting Fairfield’s dedication to environmental education. After an introduction to the school’s rules and faculty, the eighth-grade students refueled at lunch and took on to their first class: The Action Socialization Experiences, or ASEs. During this activity, groups of students rotate through a series of team-building tasks that push them to sharpen their communication and cooperation skills. At the end of each challenge, they discussed the problems that they faced and how they either failed or succeeded at overcoming them. Not every challenge was a serious test, however, and many laughs were shared. After this, the students split into smaller groups and rotated through a variety of environmentally based classes.
In Water Ecology, students identified natural water sources and learned that less than 0.5% of all the water on Earth is potable and accessible. They discussed how the quality of our freshwater streams and lakes can be determined by the macroinvertebrates that inhabit them. After meeting some water-dwelling creatures and discussing their importance in the ecosystem, the students were challenged to use their newfound knowledge to educate others and change water consumption habits at home.
Colonial Woodworking provided a hands-on lesson about the early American woodworking trade and its impacts on forestry and conservation. Before iron became affordable and accessible, wood was the primary resource for most construction at that time. This impacted the abundance of certain tree species since some were harvested at higher rates and sold for mercantile purposes. After a rundown of rustic tools of the trade, the students had the opportunity to use these tools to craft their own piece of history to take home as a reminder of their time spent at the NJSOC.
The students tackled the issue of self-confidence at both the Confidence Course and the Climbing Wall. Regardless of their choice, each student was introduced to the School of Conservation’s policy of “challenge by choice”. Anyone can choose to attempt any of the challenges and if the student makes the decision to try we encourage them to give 100% of their effort. Whether they faced the wire and ropes course or scaled one of the faces of our wall, each student excelled and pushed the boundaries of their comfort zone. By stepping out of this zone, the participants grow as individuals and build confidence.
Some students also got out on our trails for an interpretive hike. Each hike is unique in that the information provided was fueled by the student’s own curiosity. While an instructor will stop and discuss any wildlife or phenomena they see, the students are encouraged to point out their own subjects. By this form of instruction, we hope to impress upon the students the importance of asking not only what something is, but the why or how some things happen in the world around them. Continued questioning is at the foundation of science, and natural curiosity is something we hope to kindle in our students.
All educators at the New Jersey School of Conservation wish the eighth grade class of Fairfield the very best in their future endeavors. We hope that they take the lessons they learned here within Stokes State Forest and inspire those around them to do their part to protect our natural environment. We thank all of the teachers and counselors involved in the trip, especially school coordinator, Lisa Niemi. All of us look forward to meeting next year’s eighth graders for an equally enjoyable trip.
Article written by Erin Keller