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Observe, encourage, bond: team-building day has multiple purposes

Watch Crossroads Middle seventh-graders as they do team-building activities to set the tone for the school year

Northview — Mere seconds after Camp Roger guide Karen Saupe had finished explaining how to gather wood for a fire, Simon Brodi was all business with his fellow group members.

“You should first try to find the smallest, driest sticks possible,” he told his partners in safe survival skill-building before they set off together.

“I’d find a longer one,” he advised another who held up a dead branch with a questioning look.

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” he said to yet another member of his group who was attempting to break off a branch from a fallen tree.

And to someone who inquired about the fuel capabilities of a mushroom he had spotted: “If that’s poisonous and we light it, it could give off a harmful gas,” Simon advised.

The annual day at Camp Roger in Belding for all Crossroads Middle seventh-graders was about more than team-building, outdoor adventure and getting one’s sneakers muddy. Every year since the mid-1990s it provides a chance for building staff to observe their new students outside the classroom, teacher Kathy Vogel said.

They note those who tend to take the lead, like Simon, and those who hang back. They note the quiet ones and the playful ones. They note who tends to wander and who speaks up, who offers help, who could work on patience and who is especially kind. All those characteristics, Vogel said, are valuable when they return to the classroom.

“We want kids to feel safe when they take risks, and supported by their classmates,” she said. “Watching them interact in this way is very telling. We get to see their strengths and talents.”

Activities besides campfire-building included rock wall climbing and team games such as flipping over a tarp with all team members standing on it, walking in unison wearing wood plank “shoes” and moving a pair of hula hoops through a circle while holding hands.

Though many of the 240 or so seventh-graders came to Crossroads from Highlands Middle, about 40 students are new to the district this year. Additionally, Highlands students change classrooms with one group all year, where Crossroads students do not, so many had not interacted with their peers before camp.

“Our goal is to get them working together, believing in each other and coming to a consensus, which is very hard to do — at any age,” teacher Jeremy Kirkman said with a laugh.

Besides Vogel, teacher Kristy Templar took the lead in planning the event that spanned two full days, and other teachers participated as group leaders. The Crossroads Middle PTC helped with costs not covered by the district.

Read more from Northview: 
Discovering the ‘why’ of career exploration
District builds sense of belonging with after-school programs

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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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