Children gets hands-on outdoor lesson | SierraSun.com

Children gets hands-on outdoor lesson

Katherine Morris

Stephanie Bacon first discovered Woodleaf Outdoor School as a curious sixth-grader on a weeklong field trip with Sierra Mountain Middle School.

During her senior year at Tahoe-Truckee High School, she returned to the school – not as a student, but as a counselor for a new generation of sixth-graders, whom she led through the same activities and lessons she had learned years before.

Today, Bacon still makes the annual trip to Woodleaf, only now, she goes as a sixth-grade teacher at SMMS.

“I guess you could say I’ve come full circle,” says Bacon, as she enjoys a quick bite to eat with other teachers in the quiet of the staff room. “I must say that my experiences as a counselor at Woodleaf were really what made me decide to go into teaching. I found the whole thing very valuable…inspirational, too.”

The annual sixth-grade trip to the Woodleaf Outdoor School has been a strong tradition at SMMS for more than 12 years.

The school, nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 45 miles northeast of Marysville, offers students a hands-on opportunity to study natural sciences, creative writing, art and social sciences during a five-day adventure in an environmental wonderland – complete with ponds, ancient pines and a variety of unique flora and fauna.

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There’s even a wilderness survival component to the classes.

“The main reasons we started this program were because it not only fulfills state science curriculum requirements, but allows students to learn in the outdoors, in a real hands-on environment,” Decker said.

According to Decker, that outdoor environment often allows different students to shine – particularly those who might not do so well in the typical classroom environment.

“Also, for the sixth-grade students, it’s often the first time many of these kids are together at the same school, since several elementary school’s feed into SMMS,” she added. “This trip, usually in the beginning of the year, bonds classes and kids together and helps develop friendships that will last throughout school.”

Another major component of the trip is the partnering up of sixth-graders with a high school senior counselor.

“What’s cool about this program is that it takes kids, who attended Woodleaf years ago in middle school, and brings them back as teachers and counselors,” Decker said. “It’s a lot of fun for them, but it’s also a great deal of work, because there’s a lot of unstructured time when the counselors have to think on their feet and come up with activities and lessons for the kids.”

According to Bacon, it often brings out the inherent teacher in these seniors.

“A lot of kids on their applications to participate in the program say that they are thinking of going into the teaching profession and want to use this opportunity to try it out,” Bacon said. “I think it’s a good gauge for these students to see if this is something that they really want to do.”

“I had so many of the counselors come up to me after this year’s trip and say, ‘I love this. This is what I want to do,'” Decker added.

“These kids volunteered to miss five days of school to do this, even though they had to make up the work they missed on their own time,” she added. “These are extremely dedicated kids. We had such an incredible crop of counselors this year that we felt the need to recognize them in some way.”

Last week, SMMS did just that with a lunch-hour ice cream social for counselors and a handful of students. Students gorged themselves on vanilla ice cream with chocolate and strawberry syrup and whip cream.

Some sixth-graders welcomed their Woodleaf counselors with hugs, homemade cards and thank you notes.

“I learned so much more as a counselor as Woodleaf than I did as a student,” said TTHS senior Tiffany Schegg. “It was really enlightening. I understand what parents and teachers have to go through now, having had to watch nine girls for a week.”

Schegg, who hopes to attend the University of California, San Diego, in the fall, said while she is not sure she’d want to go into teaching, Woodleaf definitely made her consider it.

Aside from ice cream and thank you notes, their hard work has been rewarded with a special invitation to attend “One Earth, One People: An international symposium on the environment,” being held at Woodleaf next November.

The goal of the school is the gather an international group of young people who are interested in making positive contribution to the world and environment.

“The neat thing about this is that students were specially selected,” Decker said