The New Jersey School of Conservation was happy to welcome the sixth grade class of the Norwood Public School once again for a three day experience full of outdoor activities and environmental classes. After an introduction to NJSOC’s rules and faculty and a lunch refuel, the students took on to their first class: Action Socialization Experiences, or ASEs. During this activity, student groups rotate through a series of challenges that push them to sharpen their teamwork skills: communication, cooperation, and respect. At the end of each challenge, they broke down the different issues within their group and brainstormed how they could overcome them. Instructors are not as interested in seeing the students complete the task as they are in seeing the group grow and develop as a team across all challenges. Each debrief helped the students of Norwood develop a better understanding of what it means to be a good leader and teammate. After these team-building activities, the students split into smaller groups and rotated through a variety of other classes.
The students also tackled the issue of self-confidence at both the confidence course and the climbing wall. Regardless of the class, each student was introduced to the School of Conservation’s policy of “challenge by choice.” Although NJSOC instructors 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. Those on the confidence course had the opportunity to try out some elements new the SOC, not only building confidence in themselves but in one another. On the climbing wall, the students cheered each other on while learning how to participate in a belay line. The sixth graders of Norwood hardly had difficulty taking on new challenges head-on and pushing themselves to greater heights.
With their boundaries tested, the students continue to push their self-confidence to new levels. Archery allowed the students to sharpen their marksmanship skills. They were encouraged to work on form and technique by starting from the basics. From there, they built a foundation that would help them hit their targets dead center, both at the School of a Conservation and beyond. Questing tasked the eighth graders with clues to lead them to a stash of treasure hidden in the woods. While self-confidence is important to expand, it should not get in the way of teamwork. Students each had a chance to take the lead of the expedition but also had to work through the clues together to reach their goal.
In Water Ecology, students identified natural water sources and how the quality of streams and lakes can be determined by the macroinvertebrates that inhabit them. The students then analyzed a local stream and were challenged to use their newfound knowledge to educate others and change water consumption habits at home. Boating offered the students a chance to get even closer to the residents of the lake. After a brief rundown of the basics of paddling, braking, and turning a canoe, the students were able to explore the banks and islands on a search for turtles, frogs, and fish. Some teams got stuck in the mud while exploring close to the shores, but used their handy new skills to free themselves with ease!
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 constructions at that time. This impacted the abundance of certain tree species as 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 work together to construct birdhouses that would be put up for native species here at the School of Conservation.
All of the educators at the New Jersey School of Conservation would like to wish the sixth grade class of Norwood Public School the best for 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 the environment. We would like to thank all of the teachers and counselors involved in the trip, especially the coordinator, Marijean O’Donnell. All of us look forward to meeting next years’ sixth graders for an equally enjoyable trip.
By Erin Keller