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From the Big City to the Big Forest: What 100 NYC Students Learned at Clearpool

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February 18, 2015

NEWS_NYC-Class-Trip-Clearpool_Feb2015.jpgTwo NYC teachers, Megan Moskop and Sarah Merchlewitz, share their perspective on bringing 100 students for an overnight outdoor education experience at our Clearpool Campus.

Ask any 6th grader from New York City’s MS 324 what their favorite part of our trip to Clearpool was and they’ll probably tell you, “Predator vs. Prey.”

In many ways, the game — which mimics the food chain as players eventually join  larger and larger teams — is also an apt metaphor for our entire outdoor camping experience.

This past October, one hundred 6th graders from Washington Heights, Manhattan left behind their video games and the concrete wilderness for three days at Clearpool. For many, it was their first night away from home, and for all of them, it was a big step towards becoming citizens in a larger community and larger ecosystem.

Away from the familiar noise and light pollution of the city, these middle schoolers also had to let their guard down as they tried a new way of working together.

On the very first day, our small group became agitated and vocal as they struggled to succeed in a “Crossing the River” game that relied on listening, cooperation, support, and leadership skills. The biggest deficit for our students in this challenge was listening to (let alone remembering!) each other’s ideas and instructions. The exercise took far longer than expected and fractured the group into those who got the big picture objective, and those who were only focused on themselves. As teachers, we worried that all the little gains in emergent problem-solving skills that we see tentatively applied in the classroom had been left back at school.

Our Clearpool guide, Sharon, was used to this, however, and planned some extra teamwork practice before hitting the Low Ropes course, where she again reminded us of the importance of communication not only for our group’s success, but this time for safety. When the kids could literally feel and see their responsibility for holding each other up, something magical happened. Each student made it across the tightrope from one tree to another using only their classmates’ hands as support. At first one self-conscious student declined to participate, but after she heard the cheers for each of her team members, she decided to give it a try. The group, sensing her anxiety, remained extra quiet, focused, and solid in their formation on either side. This time they didn’t need any adult reminders to keep each other safe.

This is the reason why MS 324 comes back to Clearpool again and again. Of course we want our city kids to be comfortable with the silence of the outdoors, to walk in the woods, and appreciate the work of the tiniest mosses as well as the tallest trees. But more important, perhaps, are the ongoing lessons that teach us how to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Math teacher Sharon Kramer notes that this is an important step for middle schoolers as they transition from dependence to independence. “They leave their parents behind at school,” she shared. “But they’re still with trusted adults, their teachers, and they learn that they’ll be ok supporting themselves and supporting each other.”

They learned this both outdoors and indoors when one student declared that everyone should try to reduce their cafeteria food waste to zero in honor of a classmate’s birthday.

The students built connections to each other and to the environment. They mapped how the water from aquifers upstate reaches New York City, and they explored how building mansions and water parks along a river would affect those downstream.

Due to the increased societal value placed on test scores, these more human values of empathy, stewardship, and community are often pushed aside. At Clearpool, we placed these values front and center, and built stronger relationships with our students.

We know bringing students to Clearpool is valuable because after the “frogs” were done running away from the “hawks” in Predator vs. Prey, all the students left with a deeper sense of the ways they impact both their ecosystem and their community.


Clearpool offers countless educational experiences for classes, scout troops, families, adults, home-schoolers and other groups. Explore what you can learn within 350 acres of natural beauty >

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