Last month, The New Century School 4th- and 5th-grade students went on an overnight field trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School, in Whorton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Chaperoned by teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal, girls bunked together in a cabin, and boys bunked together in a separate cabin. “I did this trip when I was in Middle School,” said Ms. Stasch, who initiated the excursion, “and it was a fantastic bonding experience.”
Echo Hill Outdoor School’s mission is “to provide students with positive experiences in the outdoors that are exciting, interesting, and fun. Through [their] programs, students learn more about the wonders of nature, the value of history, and the diversity of individual qualities. [They] are dedicated to creating a safe and supportive environment for students to feel challenged and successful with the freedom to think, question, and express themselves.”
Ms. Stasch explains that of the many different kids of curricula EHOS offers, team-building was what she wanted to focus on to tie in with what they had been doing in class to strengthen their ability to work together. There’s also an adventure course with ziplining and other activities, bonfires, hikes, etc. TNCS students would have loved to stay longer and participate in some of those activities, but they managed to fit a lot in even with their short stay. Their first day started with a basic team-building activity, in which they each had to get to a platform opposite where they were standing without crossing a line drawn on the ground—the “hot lava.” Their means of conveyance was a 5-foot rope, but the rope hung over the platform, meaning that they first had to figure out how to obtain the rope. They eventually arrived at the solution of tying their shirts and jackets together in a long line and sort of lassoing the rope in their direction.
“They found this very challenging at first and were expressing negativity about their ability to see this through, but once they pulled together, it was really great to see them come up with a successful solution,” said Ms. Stasch. Each then caught the rope and swung across to the platform, which was part two of the challenge. They all had to assemble on the small square platform without falling into the “lava,” which meant catching each other and helping each other steadily dismount onto it. This got harder and harder as more students reached their goal and space inversely decreased. It’s not only a great solution, using what materials they had at hand, but it also demonstrated their collective efficacy when working as a unit. “No one fell in the lava, joked Ms. Stasch. “At this point in the exercise, they were working very well together and encouraging each other. It was a flip-flop from the beginning of the challenge when they were having difficulty working together. When they figured it all out, there was this sudden switch, which is exactly what we wanted to see with this group, and this great collaborative spirit has continued back at school.”
Another fun exercise they did was to practice echolocation in which one blindfolded student pretended to be a bat in search of food. This was pretty much a dry version of that pinnacle of pool games, Marco Polo. “Food” in the form of the other students, formed a circle and clapped to indicate their whereabouts for the hungry bat, who had to tag his prey to be successful.
Their next activity was a night hike, and they loved that. The teachers let their students embark on that activity with the staff alone so they could feel as far removed from school as possible and really embrace the environment they were in. They heard owls and other wildlife.
The next day started with canoeing, another activity that requires a certain degree of cooperation in order to be able to move across the water purposefully. This was their “survival day,” which also included building a fire and experimenting with what material burned best, what building technique to use (e.g. “log cabin” style versus “tent style”), and what could be done to make the fire stronger. It took TNCS students a bit longer than usual due to the long stretch of rain that bookended their trip and dampened the kindling, but under normal circumstances, Echo Hill campers would also build a shelter from wood found on the beach. Nevertheless, this was nearly unanimously voted to be the best activity. They even used the ash to decorate their faces afterward in a show of . . . tribal solidarity? Creative expression? Plain old outdoor fun? (Probably all three.)
For dining, they mingled with other non-TNCS campers and tried to meet someone new at each meal. They also minded their intake very carefully so as to prevent unnecessary food waste. “They loved the food, but took only what amount they were certain they could eat. If they were still hungry, they could get more.” At the end of each meal, plate scrapings went in a slop bucket, which was then weighed—the goal being to reduce the weight of the bucket contents. “They were constantly aware of the bucket and their desire to keep it light, which was a nice reminder of food waste.”
“I wanted to do this trip,” said Ms. Stasch:
because I knew we’d all get to see each other in a different setting. It was a lot of fun. We all hope to do a longer trip—more than just a night—next year. The staff were amazing. They were so well trained, and every activity was so well planned out and so well structured. The students were really enthusiastic and happy that we had gone. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’d like to take them again. They reflected verbally afterward on how important collaboration is. Some students were starting to ‘check out’ out of frustration in the beginning, but when they came back and worked together, they saw that that’s when it all comes together. We had some good discussion on that theme. It was a good age to be away from home for a night. They’ve grown and matured a lot this year, and hopefully they will internalize what they learned about collaboration from Echo Hill and can take it with them in their future endeavors.
Mr. McGonigal agreed: It was really great—a cool trip. We got to see the kids outside their element from a different perspective, and we could see the kids really working together. At first there were a couple of kids who were apprehensive about joining in, but by the end of the trip, everyone was into it and having a great time.”