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Sit-spots, salmon and saving lives

Day at camp fuses core subjects with outdoor education

Northview —  Michael Melcher noticed something when he spent the first few minutes at camp sitting quietly on a patch of soggy ground: He didn’t hear any birds.

“That sometimes means a storm is coming,” said the fifth-grader. “They’re looking for shelter.”

Said third-grader Donald Andre: “I noticed that leaf stems are turning red” as autumn approaches and chlorophyll breaks down.

Added second-grader Gabby Bajema: “I was thinking about how leaves form their shapes.”

The trio was reporting their “sit-spot” findings to Field School classmates at Little Pine Island Camp, a new district partnership with The Salvation Army.

On Tuesdays throughout the school year, Field School grades K-5 will participate in a day at the camp to hone their outdoor skills while continuing mastering core subjects in a setting surrounded by forest, lakes and wetlands.

‘This space really gives us the opportunity to be creative. We can spread out, and truly be outside all day.’

— Sarah McCormack, third/fourth-grade teacher

While there, Field School students participate in activities and learning opportunities that encourage curiosity, stewardship, community, leadership and adventure. They work on communication skills, teamwork and trust through group initiatives, team-building activities and low rope elements. 

On their first day of learning, about 60 students were divided into three groups and rotated through sessions on CPR and first aid, salmon life cycle and nature journaling.

“At field school we value healthy risk-taking,” said fifth-grade teacher Carl Baird. “We work as a community to evaluate various situations, both indoors and in the wilderness. Watching students of various grade levels collaborating during our CPR and first-aid training reminded me of how important it is for students to not only feel empowered, but to be given opportunities to practice their skills and build self-confidence as a team.”

Added Sarah McCormack, a third/fourth-grade teacher, “I really love seeing the students work hard in a new space. At Pine Island we are able to work collaboratively both as students and teaching teams. … This space really gives us the opportunity to be creative. We can spread out, and truly be outside all day.” 

Assistant Superintendent Liz Cotter said the district’s “very reasonable” contract to use the camp is being paid for in part through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) dollars meant to encourage staff to engage students in outdoor activities.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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