School trip into the woods

PHOTO PROVIDEDBeekmantown senior Jaylen Simpson smiles on Rich Lake before canoeing for the first time. Simpson's Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class mixed science, art and English during a three-day excursion to SUNY of Environmental Science and Forestry's Newcomb, NY campus. 

BEEKMANTOWN — SUNY of Environmental Science and Forestry's Newcomb campus brought eight Beekmantown Central School students closer to nature.

The High School's field trip took three of them to new heights on their first-ever hike. 

Jaylen Simpson, Katrina Wilson and Marissa Parmeter, along with their classmates, climbed Goodnow Mountain and up the fire tower located at its 2,690-foot summit.

"It was very rewarding," Simpson said. "The view was so beautiful, and there was wind coming at you."

English teacher Kerry Burdo hoped the trip would expose her Advanced Placement Literature and Composition students to the outdoors.

"The students live right near the Adirondack Park, if not within it, and so many of them have never hiked, canoed or spent time within the wilderness."



ESF's Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb is 15,000 acres of Adirondack nature.

The campus houses the Adirondack Ecological Center, the Adirondack Interpretive Center and the Northern Forest Institute for Conservation Education and Leadership Training.

The Beekmantown trip was through the NFI component of the campus, which, according to their website, provides place-based environmental education to professionals, students K through college and the community. 

"Through workshops, discussions and hands-on experiences, NFI's outreach efforts connect participants with the natural world, while exploring concepts in scientific research, wildlife management, forestry, environmental philosophy, history and many others."

The Beekmantown students stayed in bunkhouses on campus, packed their own lunch from provided foods and had daily outings into the woods and onto the lakes.



Science teacher Alison Brown and art teacher Renee Hall accompanied Burdo on the interdisciplinary trip.

"We wanted to combine science, English and now art," the English teacher said.

During the three-day retreat, the seniors attended lessons by NFI Associate Director Paul Hai on each subject.

Hai discussed bird calls, the transcendentalists of American literature and local artwork.

"(Ralph Waldo) Emerson was here in the Adirondacks," Hai said. "He wrote a poem called 'The Adirondacks."

"Sure, they (students) can look in an art book and see paintings from all over the world, but I think that it's incredibly powerful to stand in the spot where the 'Hudson River School' painting was painted."

Students symbolized their predecessors by taking notes in provided journals, writing poems after hiking and canoeing or drawing the outdoor scenes. 

"Throughout the year, we've dealt with setting in works of literature so this is a place where we wanted the students to find their own sense of place within the wilderness," Burdo said.

"They would observe a specific area of the wilderness, and they responded to their feelings in writing or through art — some students did both."

Student Hannah LaFountain wrote a poem about a petal that had fallen away from its flower.

"I personified the petal," she said. "I said it was lonely."



Additional activities included a philosophical discussion. 

Burdo's students were asked, "What is the best argument for saving the wilderness?"

Given a mix of social, political, spiritual and economic viewpoints, the seniors studied each and weighed the pros and cons. 

LaFountain said by the end, the group decided each argument is weak on its own, but strong together. 

"You need to incorporate all of the aspects about why the wilderness is important to be able to have an argument to save the wilderness," she said. 



Another exercise was called the "Break-Out-Box."

The high schoolers were given a wooden crate affixed with three locks.

The first lock required a directional code to open, the second a letter code and the third a number code.

Working together, they successfully used clues hidden around them and solved science and literature questions to crack the codes and open the box. 

One question had them uncover the word "foil," or a character who contrasts the protagonist in literature, and another the Fibonacci sequence, which is a series of numbers that often appears in nature. 

"You had to collaborate," Burdo said, mentioning the students who overlapped into the school's AP Biology course.

The trip finished with sleeping teens on the ride home and relationships that, according to Parmeter, had grown.

"I love how much we bonded with each other," she said. "I feel like we got closer."


Email McKenzie Delisle:

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle


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