Here is another great post from UCDS Resident Teacher, Maggie Ruisi, about her students’ experience at NatureBridge. -Ed.
One of my favorite memories from this school year was our two night trip to Olympic National Park with 95 first and second graders. This trip was one of those reminders of why the profession of teaching is a gift to those of us who work within it. NatureBridge partners with the National Park service hosting environmental science programs throughout the United States. For the last 20 years, UCDS students have studied in this “classroom without walls”, which is located in the heart of a temperate rainforest. Before embarking on this epic journey, that statistic was one of the few things that reassured me this was a good idea. Even though we had an abundance of adults helping us along the way, we were still taking 95 children under the age of ten on an overnight field trip.
My mind raced in a loop: What if they got homesick? What if they couldn’t sleep? What if it was rainy or cold? What if, what if, what if? Indeed, some children did get homesick and a few couldn’t sleep the first night. It was rainy and cold. And it was also completely worth it. Spending uninterrupted time together over the course of our three days at NatureBridge not only bonded us as a group, but also, it gave our kids the time and space to push themselves to do things that scared them. This, in turn, worked to build their self-confidence, resiliency, and independence. For some children, this struggle was learning to work through their homesickness. For others, they learned that they could enjoy foods that weren’t just noodles with butter. And for many, it was that they were capable of pushing through an eight hour hike in the rain.
Our hike day may be remembered by some as less than ideal: it was a wet one–very wet, and May in the Olympics is still very cold. But our kids were excited and our NatureBridge Educators had the energy to match. The educators guided our kids, in small groups, through a 1.5 mile hike up to Marymere Falls and back. In doing so, they created a wonderful balance between environmental literacy education and team building. We played games to get us better in tune with the nature around us and we played games to get better in tune with each other. We sang songs and kept moving our shivering bodies up the mountain. Each group took a different route so as not to overcrowd each other and, upon our return, each group had stories of enjoyment, exhaustion, and struggle. But, in retrospect, it was that struggle (or as one educator put it a “later-like”) which instilled in our kids a new level of resiliency and independence.
NatureBridge was one of those experience that reminds me it is an honor to be in this profession–to be among some of our youngest humans and watch them persist in the face of physical and mental challenges. It was a reminder, and inspiration, to my adult self to summon the same courage and drive when I face my own struggles.