After a year hiatus, Outdoor Education trips are back
“Into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”
Next week will mark a milestone in Keystone’s move toward a new normal in our programming. After a year’s hiatus, we are bringing back the school’s long-standing and beloved Outdoor Education program.
However, like almost every other element of school life in today’s pandemic-influenced world, the Outdoor Ed trips will retain elements of the past while recognizing the exigencies of COVID. Everyone going on these trips must provide proof of vaccination, and undergo a COVID test, which will be administered at school before the trip. Anyone receiving a positive test result will not be allowed to travel.
These excursions will enable students to learn science and history on site; in addition, they offer students and faculty/staff opportunities to be together and enjoy one another’s company in a different environment. Cooking together and living with one another for an extended period of time can solidify already established friendships and create new bonds among people who may not know each other already.
You may ask — why in a school known for academic excellence are we taking time away from the classroom for these trips? Having gone on the 9th grade trip to the Olympic Peninsula twice now and the senior trip to Florida, I can tell you that these trips teach lessons that students can’t learn on campus. While reading textbooks about Yellowstone or Yosemite (the location of other outdoor education trips) may be interesting, nothing can compare to seeing and touching (as long as it’s not poison ivy!) flora and fauna in the wild.
Two years ago, students and teachers stood in awe watching salmon hurling themselves up a waterfall in Olympic National Park. The only thing that made this experience more extraordinary was that we did it together, and it provided a memory we would have forever. Similarly, I recall seniors deeply moved as they floated next to manatees in the Crystal River of Florida. Here again, the concepts we had learned earlier in the week were now made manifest in the real world, and our understanding felt that much more meaningful.
Beyond the academic learning, though, these adventures offer lessons in the social-emotional realm. Spending a week together away from home with classmates and faculty/staff members allows relationships to broaden and deepen. People come to know each other in a much more profound manner, and they appreciate one another in a different way than before. There is time for deeper conversations than during the frenzied school week, and students and teachers find shared interests and common tastes. The learning that happens on these trips transcends the classroom and enables everyone to grow and develop. Some Keystone alumni point to the Outdoor Education program as their favorite times in middle and high school.
Science teacher and trip organizer Mr. Nydegger described the upcoming 11th experience this way. “For the DC trip we will be staying at Camp Greentop in the Catoctin Mountain Park of Maryland near the Pennsylvania border. This camp is one of numerous camps around the nation that have been preserved for their history. They were created by the Civilian Conservation Corp (my grandfather was a CCC worker) through the Works Progress Administration of FDR’s New Deal. During WWII the camp was used for training by the CIA predecessor (the OSS), Special Operations, Secret Intelligence, and Operational Groups. The presidential retreat, Camp David, is less than a kilometer up the road.
Our plan is to spend 3 days in the National Mall area of Washington DC and 3 days visiting historic areas outside of the city where we can also do some hiking.
In the National Mall area we will have a night hike of the monuments, and students will have a chance to visit the National Gallery of Art, the Air & Space Museum, the American History Museum, the American Indian Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the African American History Museum, the Freer Gallery, the Sackler Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Renwick Gallery.
Outside of the metro area we will be visiting Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry, Manassas, the Appalachian Trail, and some hiking in our camp’s backyard of Catoctin Mountain.”
Upper School Head Mr. Spedding and Coach Unruh discussed the senior trip. “Students on the 12th grade Florida trip hike, kayak, explore, and swim along various wetland ecosystems in coastal central Florida. Highlights include visiting the Withlacoochee State Forest, which the World Wildlife Fund calls one of the ‘10 Coolest Places You’ve Never Been in North America.’ Students also get to swim with manatees in the Crystal River, watch seabirds at Honeymoon Island, and enjoy the company of their 12th grade classmates during the 5 day trip. Students will also experience the beach as a way to decompress amid the stress of schoolwork and Covid.”
When asked about the prospect of middle school students going on Outdoor Ed trips in the spring, Head of Middle School Dr. Wivagg said, “We are hopeful for the return of outdoor education programs for middle school in the spring. These trips help build community and instill values such as leadership, cooperation, and friendship among our students. Also, they are just a lot of fun.”
Having traveled with students for many years, Mr. Spedding expressed the importance of the Keystone Outdoor Ed program. “Keystone’s Outdoor Education program is one of our greatest strengths. Students gain appreciation of the natural beauty and wildlife of our National Parks and enjoy learning about the local ecosystems. The community building that occurs on these annual excursions create memories that are often central experiences of their four years in high school. We are so excited to be able to safely resume the trips after COVID forced cancellations during 20-21.”
Slowly, we are finding our way toward a new set of routines and inventing traditions and memories. To all of our students and faculty/staff who will travel this year, we wish a bon voyage!