Thursday, August 13, 2015

Students Hike High Heights for Healthy Habits

Donna McCusker 
Jessica Williams
Janet Steinart (2008 TTEC Cohort & current TTEC Advisory Council Member)
Whitefield School
Whitefield, NH
2015 TTEC Cohort

The White Mountains is a resource that provides more than just summer hiking. Whitefield School teachers Donna McCusker and Jessica Williams attended a weeklong summer workshop in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, learning to design lessons that take students out of the classroom and into the mountains. The workshop, entitled Trail to Every Classroom, provides instruction on using the environment to fulfill core curriculum standards while engaging students in learning that is relevant and real. While at the workshop, McCusker and Williams created plans to revitalize the trail on the school grounds, designed an outdoor classroom that they hope to build onsite, and wrote lesson plans that marry the outdoors with core standards. 

“We hope to revitalize the school trail so that teachers and students may use it as an outdoor resource,” explained McCusker. About 10 years ago, the school trail was constructed in a school and community effort. “The trail and outdoor classroom will provide teachers and students with an opportunity to use the environment as a learning tool,” added Williams. 

McCusker was part of the original team that created the Whitefield Wilderness Explorers, an extracurricular activity offered to students in grades five through eight at Whitefield School. Whitefield School’s Wilderness Explorers recently spent two days in the White Mountains learning about the fragile alpine zone. Novice students spent nine hours hiking to the summit of Mt. Hale then on to Zealand Hut while an experienced group traversed the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to Lakes of the Clouds hut then up to Mt. Washington. Both groups were instructed by their classroom teachers and AMC staff as they climbed with full backpacks up the rocky and steep mountain trails. 

AMC staff instructed students on “Keeping it R.E.A.L.” on the trail. Using the acronym, students learned to effectively use Resources, to respect the Environment, to have a positive Attitude, and to always be open to Learning while out in the wilderness. AMC staff illustrated the concepts through a variety of activities that engaged students in keeping it R.E.A.L. For example, students examined maps before setting out, determining the rigor of the trail by identifying topographical details on the map. 

Through a partnership with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Whitefield School is able to provide students with valuable learning experiences in the wilderness that exists in their own back yards.—the essence of place-based learning. Funding was provided for this experience through a generous grant from the Waterman Fund, a local organization that fosters stewardship and care of alpine environment. 

A Trail to Every Classroom is a collaborative effort provided through a partnership of the 
Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Park Service. 

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