The New Jersey School of Conservation was excited to once again host the fifth grade class of the John Adams Elementary School for a week of exciting outdoor activities and classes. This trip continues a tradition of environmental education in Stokes State Forest going back over thirty-five years. After an introduction to the SOC’s rules and faculty, the students headed to their first activity: Action Socialization Experiences, or ASEs. This team-building class has the students rotate through a series of challenging tasks. These tasks are all designed so that no one person can complete them alone. However, the instructors would rather the groups develop into a cohesive team than complete the tasks. The fifth graders found that they faced more problems in the woods than the puzzles. Effective communication requires not only talking and listening, but comprehension and truly paying attention to what teammates are saying. After this tackling this issue and more, the groups headed out for individual classes.
Over the course of three days, the students were called upon to push themselves in various ways. On the Confidence Course, each individual was introduced to the School of Conservation’s policy of “challenge by choice.” People have different skill and abilities that they bring to the table, and also have different limits when it comes to challenging situations. No SOC educator forces a student to attempt any of the confidence elements. However, once they do, we expect them to give one hundred percent and push themselves. It was very apparent that every student from John Adams put their best effort forward and rose to the challenge.
For the fifth-graders, Stokes State Forest can be a new an exciting and wild place. During Survival, the fifth-graders learned the basics of how to cope with an emergency situation. 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 the four basic needs: air, shelter, food, and water. The students learned that shelter isn’t just about having a roof over our heads, but rather about maintaining body temperature. Fire is a useful for generating heat in a survival situation if you have the right tools. After talking about safely maintaining fire, the students were able to try various camping fire starters with different tinder sources and discussed the pros and cons of each in a survival situation. Finally, the class learned the basics of shelter building and tried their hand at constructing one with only the resources that nature provides.
During the Web of Life activity, the students learned about predator, prey, and the flow of energy through the ecosystem. This simulation put the student’s survival knowledge to the test and tasked everyone with collecting all four of their basic needs as either an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore. While predators could “hunt” their classmates with a quick tag, the carnivores and omnivores quickly learned that getting caught up in the hunt and neglecting their other needs is deadly. When one student was chosen to become a natural disaster that could take lifelines from any group, it became very apparent that life is a constant balancing act.
In Stream-Geo Ecology, the students identified natural water sources and discussed how water management plans break areas of land up into watersheds to better monitor water quality. They then took a hike along Flat Brook stream and learned about the ways in which fresh water sources can change landscapes and become polluted as they move from one large body of water to the next. After catching some stream-dwelling invertebrates to examine water quality, the fifth graders were challenged to use their newfound knowledge to educate others and change water consumption habits at home.
During their stay, students also got the chance to learn about the early American life in Pioneer Life and Woodworking. While the latter introduced the students to the process of learning a trade, the former talked about the familial aspects of daily, pre-industrial life. The Pioneer class toured the DeGroat cabin, a 19th century Dutch cabin built by John DeGroat for his family. The students discussed the problems that the DeGroats might have faced living in post-Civil War New Jersey, including water sources and local agriculture. They were also able to have a sweet treat and make “Johnny cakes” on an authentic cast iron stove. Woodworking allowed a hands-on lesson about the Early American woodworking trade and its impacts on forestry and conservation. After learning about rustic tools of the trade, students had the opportunity to use these tools to build a roomy birdhouse to hang up here at the SOC or back at their own school.
The educators and staff of the New Jersey School of a Conservation would like to thank the coordinator, Leanne Barnhard, and all the teachers and chaperones for making this visit possible. We wish the fifth grade class of the John Adams School the very best in their future endeavors, and look forward to the next generation of bright minds for their visit next year!
Written by Erin Keller