The New Jersey School of Conservation was happy to once again welcome the students of Wenonah Public School for a week of engaging ecology classes and outdoor activities. This trip represents a long-standing dedication to environmental education by the students, 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 split into smaller groups and rotated through their various classes.
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 100% effort. Whether they faced the elevated wire and ropes course or scaled one of the faces of our wall, each student excelled and pushed the boundaries of their comfort zones. Only by stepping out of this zone are we able to grow as individuals and build our confidence. Survival pushed the students’ capabilities and comfort zones 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 unique uses for a simple bandana.
Not only did the students get to explore Stokes 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 our two of our furry neighbors. Each class starts 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. Upon leaving this class, the students had a better knowledge of how to safely handle encounters with these animals and how human activity impacts wildlife around us. The sixth graders continued the discussion in Metalsmithing where they learned about natural resources. While heating the iron to bend for their S-hooks, the students learned the importance of coal as a non-renewable energy source that we still use today for electricity. They discussed alternative energy sources and suggested insightful ways that they could decrease energy usage by changing their own habits.
The educators and staff of the New Jersey School of a Conservation would like to thank the coordinator, Bob LoCantore, and all the teachers for making this visit possible yet again. We wish the sixth grade class of Wenonah the very best in their future endeavors and look forward to the arrival of next year’s students.
Written by Erin Keller