Thursday, September 26, 2002

Middle school students learn about life in the outdoors

Published in the Current

The outdoor education theme running through the four Cape Elizabeth Middle School grades will begin this week with the eighth graders’ participation in the statewide Coastal Cleanup.

The students will work in several areas around town, including Alewife, Boathouse, Broad, Johnson, Maiden, Peabbles, Pond and Staples coves, and Cliff House Beach.

“What we try to do in the eighth grade is give something back to the community,” said eighth grade teacher team leader, Mary Murphy.

The students also work with people of all ages around town, raking leaves from the lawns of senior citizens in a program organized by the police department, and doing trail maintenance and construction for the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, under the supervision of high school seniors.

In each activity, students learn about the natural environment and about aspects of the community they might not otherwise experience.

The final year builds on lessons learned during the previous three years at the middle school.

The program starts in fifth grade, where it is closely tied to the science curriculum. Teachers focus on “getting kids outside the classroom,” said fifth grade team leader, Cheryl Higgins.

Students take three field trips, including one to Kettle Cove in the fall to look at tidal pools and marine life. That excursion is scheduled for the end of September or the beginning of October, depending on weather.

In the spring, fifth-graders head to Fort Williams with their compasses to take on a 10-station orienteering course, using map and compass skills learned in the classroom. And in late spring, they head off to Two Lights to look at flora and fauna and do plant identification in the field.

Students also learn to work together, facing challenges and assignments in small groups. That leads to the sixth-grade experience, which was the original element in the program.

For 13 or 14 years, sixth-graders have gone to Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset for an outdoor living program, in which they learn camping skills and are responsible for pitching their own tents, cooking, chopping wood and cleaning.

Students learn to work together and form new relationships with classmates. They are assigned to groups of 10 or 12, and are separated from groups of friends. This allows them to learn and grow outside of their typical social groups, said team leader, Gary Record.

Chewonki’s lessons include group and individual challenges.

The trip isn’t until May, but sessions each Friday in sixth grade classrooms present group activities similar to Chewonki’s, to get students ready.

Last year’s class was so large it was split into two groups to attend on two different weeks. This year’s class is “almost as large,” Record said, but will go all at once.

Seventh-graders will head to Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, to attend the Leadership Development Institute, a week-long program in which students work closely with members of their advisory groups.

They learn decision-making, relationship skills and self-confidence in challenge-by-choice activities such as ropes courses. There is also time for self-examination and solo reflection during the five-day program, said seventh grade team leader, Matt Whaley.

“It’s a great place,” Whaley said.

This year, students will go to Kieve from Oct. 7 to 11 rather than the end of November, when previous classes have attended. A cancellation from another school allowed Cape to change to that week, which is expected to be warmer and more comfortable for outdoor activities.

In seventh grade, as in all the grades, teachers revisit lessons learned in previous experiences and earlier in the school year. When they go to Kieve, Chewonki, or even just to Fort Williams, “we try to bring it back afterwards,” Whaley said.