Winter greetings! In this column, I often recognize the very special students at St. Johnsbury School. I would like this week to celebrate our middle school students. This year the middle school is partnering with the Northwoods Stewardship Center to provide students with some outdoor experiences to build science knowledge and promote teamwork skills. After a recent trip to Northwoods, students wrote reflections explaining how the experience was beneficial. Here are some of their thoughts.

One student wrote, "It was a great middle school experience because it teaches us team building skills and teaches us about the outdoors and how nature works." Several students elaborated on the team building component. One student explained, "This trip was a good experience because we got to work together and help each other." Someone else said, "It really helped us to connect with people we normally wouldn't. It was good to know that now you had more people you could rely on and trust. That's important for middle schoolers. It opened our eyes." Another student proclaimed, "It taught us how to use teamwork to accomplish the impossible. I think this trip really made a difference in how some, if not most, think."

The rope course was definitely popular, and students described how that activity helped them grow. One said, "The rope course made us use communication." Another said that the rope course helped them learn how to use classmates for help. Another pointed out that the rope course "helped us to trust our classmates and teachers and work together to form strategies." One student noted, "We had to listen to each others' ideas on the rope course," and another student followed that with, "That activity helped us to value and listen to others' ideas, thoughts, and words." A powerful comment was, "The trip was fun. The rope challenge was hard but teamwork can help you accomplish anything in life." Another powerful comment was, "I think the trip to Northwoods helped kids step outside of their comfort zone, try new things, and feel good about themselves. For example, some kids were uneasy about trying the rope course but after stepping out of their comfort zone and finishing it, they felt proud and accomplished."

The process of strengthening relationships was a key theme in students' reflections. One student described the change that occurred as the day went on. He wrote, "The ropes course brought our advisory much more together, and a lot of us built trust." Another student agreed. "I believe that it helped us (advisories) to come together as more like a family. It helped us to realize that we are there for each other, no matter what. On the rope course, we had to trust that somebody would catch us if we fell." One student acknowledged, "We had to rely on each other for support. We had to trust each other and help each other throughout all the activities," and another student realized, "When one person was trying to complete a task that was difficult for them, the other teammates would encourage them to try harder and cheer them on. We often forget to do that for each other."

Students felt they learned about the outdoors as well as about teamwork. As one student said, "We not only got to go experience the outdoors but it was fun and educational." Students referred to learning how to count how old a tree is, learning how to make better observations, learning how different types of vegetation survive in the winter. One student decided that "it taught us to focus in on our surroundings." Another student felt that "it gave us a chance to take what we know outside the classroom." One student wrote, "I know a bunch about trees now!"

Here is how one student concluded his reflection. "It was awesome. I can't wait to go back." Students at St. Johnsbury School are awesome as well. How exciting that we are involved, as a learning community, in our children's educational journey!

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