Friends School of Minnesota 5th and 6th graders had a great three night trip to YMCA Camp St. Croix and to Lake Country School Land School in Wisconsin. The focus was environmental education but as with all school trips, everyone learned so much more about working together, communicating, and building community. 

There will be a 5th and 6th grade social night showcasing the highlights of this trip on Tuesday May 1, from 7-8pm.  For those not able to make it, here are some of priceless moments experienced.

Wednesday morning

So many wonderful reflections after Tuesday–our first day:  The feeling of student anticipation and excitement leaving school– dragging their bags to the buses.  Bubbling conversations and song as we drove to our first day’s activity site—YMCA Camp St. Croix.  Thank goodness our drive was short—less than an hour, just across the St. Croix River.

We arrived at around 10:30, put bags in assigned cabins, and right away were outside running around on the beautiful green lawn.

Students had games of soccer going, were sitting in the grass, enjoying the sunny, windy day—Already starting out on our community building, which is one of the main goals of this trip.

We had an early lunch, at 11:30 here in the lodge at Camp St. Croix then had time to play board games, ping-pong and foosball.

At 1pm we all gathered as a whole group, and played some icebreakers in a large circle.  We were then split up into 3 groups, facilitated by the YMCA staff (one who is husband to the person in charge of the after sale of the FSMN Plant Sale, getting leftover plants to the community gardens in River Falls, WI.)

We spent the next three hours outside, in the windy, partially sunny, cool day, doing games along the low ropes course that would help us come together as group and be better communicators.  Emphasis on the fun—everyone was engaged, challenged, barely thinking about the time, except when bellies reminded them that it was nearing dinner time.

We had a few moments of wrap up back in the commons area, before heading into the newly refurbished Dining Hall, with a lovely full wall of window view onto the heavily wooded bluffs of this park.

For me, and I think for others as well, the best part of the day was our coming together after this first full day of anticipation, excitement, and activities, full-bellied and relaxed, a bit sun and wind-rosy-cheeked, sitting together around the stage at the Lodge, sharing what we learned that day.  Each group did different activities, and it was fun to hear the stories, as well as to see the wrapped attention of the students, as they heard all the unique anecdotes and what students learned in the process.

One of the major goals of this trip is community building, and communication.  As a school where progressive education and group projects are the norm, communication is key, and being able to work well with any and all is essential.  These sorts of trips take us out of our every day routine, doing a great job to help students to grow individually and for us all to grow closer as a community.

And then there was the night games—Thicket and Ghosts in the Graveyard—a great excuse for screaming and running under the stars, in the dark night.  A perfect way to let loose all the last bits of energy and excitement, before getting ready for bed.  By 9, we were all in our cabins, reading by flashlight, whispering to share stories, some snores.  It was a good first day.

Thursday morning

We began with breakfast at Camp St. Croix, and then took a long stroll down to the river.  We found many skipping rocks, sticks, and various debris to toss into the river.   I never tire of watching young people by water.  Our group spread out along the shore to explore rocks, feathers, and driftwood.  Everyone seemed to have their own private mission, and playing with found objects was a big part of it.

We came across a dead coot—recently killed, lying on its side.  I was struck with the beauty and uniqueness of its iridescent green webbed feet.  They are webbed, but in a lovely scalloped webbing that does not join the ‘toes’ but provides webbing good enough for propulsion to dive for fish.  We touched its soft feathers and examined the underside of its wingspan.  Students gathered around, touching it and admiring the beauty of this creature.  They were sad about its death and wondering what might have killed it.

This is another goal of the trip—environmental education—and providing time and space for play, learning (which comes through play) and reverence for the natural world.  All students are natural scientists, archeologists, explorers—we try to provide them with the setting to fully realize this natural potential.

We also came across a deer carcass on the river shore—nothing left but sun-bleached bones and some hide on the legs near the hooves.  Its sighting elicited some initial screams, but then again, exploration, reverence, and questions about how it got there and met its demise.

We packed up and headed on to Kinnickinnic State Park for more exploration and lunch.  Although we had a minor delay, when one student became ill after we had loaded up the busses to go, I was very impressed with how supportive all the students were in this situation.  They were patient while the teachers were taking care of things (it helped to have lovely weather and a big green lawn to hang out on) and ready and eager to get going when time came—re-emphasizing how strong a community we are and were becoming.

Kinnickinnick State Park is an amazing place—and we had the whole place to ourselves—literally.  We set up a sandwich, fruit and veggie lunch buffet on picnic tables, and students dove right in.  After lunch, we had another hike through the woods and down to the river.

You’d think they be tired of the river, after spending the morning further up the river, but no.  We spent another hour or more there, spreading out along the wide beach, exploring and finding new ways to interact with the environment.

One of my favorites was the group who went ‘fishing for slime’ in a slough that was cut off to the river.  Big sticks and slime (algae)—What could be more fun?  It was hard to leave the sunny beach and the post luncheon malaise that was setting in, but we loaded up and headed for The Lake Country Land School, in Glenview, Wisconsin.

The Land School is a working farm owned by the Lake Country School.  Last year’s 5th and 6th graders visited it for the first time for a day trip.  This was our first time to stay overnight.  We arrived and were split into groups for orientation to the beautiful farm and surroundings.  Students visited the barn with llamas, sheep and chickens, along with the greenhouses where they are growing plants for their up-coming plant sale.

We also visited the dorm areas, kitchen, dining, and living area (with piano, conga drums and guitar).  We felt very welcomed and quite at home.  It was then time to settle into our sleeping areas and prepare our first meal.

One of the delights of staying at the Land School was the opportunity to serve by cooking and preparing meals, and also helping to clean up afterwards.  Katie, Andy and Donna, the Land School staff, were there to help guide us through the ins and outs of finding the materials we needed to get the job done.  We really enjoyed working together to prepare meals.  We also got to ring a special chime when all was ready—to describe the food, and where it came from, and then to read an inspirational reading about food, from a book their students use when introducing meals.

We ate family style, and learned the importance of passing plates, sharing, taking only what we would eat, and not wasting food.  A special treat was breakfasts featuring eggs from the chickens on the farm!   We also washed our own plates after each meal, separating compost from waste, and racking up the plates and dishes for the sanitizer machine.

Thursday evening

What a great day!  Students rotated in groups working on Survival Skills, Edible Plants and Animal Care, and Plant Sale Prep.  We spent the whole day outside, working on building shelters, planning for weather and eventualities, mucking stalls and petting sheep and llamas (and playing some barn basketball!), and repotting plants.

After dinner, we headed out for night games.  We managed to find many burrs and a few ticks, but have cleaned up nicely and all are falling asleep as I write.  What a day!

Thanks to all the parents, faculty and staff, and many others who help with the planning and preparation for these sorts of trips.  They are a lot of work, but definitely worth it, and we have forged new relationships, and strengthened bonds, which I know will continue to grow over time.

Ever grateful—  Veronica Guevara, Spanish Teacher