By Andrew Grover
HLWW Sixth Grade Teacher
On Jan. 21 at about 7:30 a.m., 45 excited and enthusiastic sixth grade students loaded their gear on one bus, then loaded themselves on another bus and rode three hours north.
The bus passed through small towns and the students saw famous landmarks like, Paul Bunyan's Girlfriend, and reached their destination just north of Hackensack at Deep Portage Conservation Reserve.
Three elementary staff, Pat Weseloh, Dean Wessman, both of whom went last year, and myself accompanied the students. A helpful and energetic group of parents also came along to participate and organize things. They were Mike Gagnon, Steve Thisius, Carol Wren, Denise Merritt, Dave Fournier, John Spartz, and Matt Drusch.
After getting some lunch and orientation the students were divided into four groups with about 11 kids per group. These groups played some games with the Deep Portage instructors and then started their classes.
Groups A-D attended all of the following classes and activities on a rotating basis: bass pond in winter, cross country skiing, Night Stalker, wolf howling, animal signs-interpretive center-gift shop, landforms 3, which taught reading compasses and landform maps, snowshoeing, survival, night hike, campfire, and "Charlie to Base."
Many of the kids enjoyed the cross country skiing where one of the instructors said "To fall is to learn." A few, like myself and Nic Fiecke had fun learning a lot. Others, like Pat Weseloh, Mike Gagnon, Travis Clos, Angie Donovan, and Amanda Gustafson didn't have to learn a lot and stayed upright quite well.
Other students loved snowshoeing. Some of the groups even competed in relays, while others wandered through frozen bogs.
If students learned a lot in landforms, then they did well in "Charlie to Base." Students had to find five points (wooden pieces with numbers on them) by tromping through the woods using walkie talkies, compasses, and maps and by counting paces and tallys and then calling in to "Base" to get a new location.
Some groups were very good and were given extra points to find and one group reached 10 points in the hour and a half class. Everyone made it back to "Base" to share their stories. Survival class made the kids earn points by making a fire, boiling water, and using a tarp to make a shelter.
During "Night Stalker," lines of quiet people listened for sounds, or laid totally still just to hear the silence. At your own risk, you could ask them about the campfire songs they learned. The schedule was busy, but there was a little time for a game of football a 7 -7 tie, sledding, card and board games, "En Passant", and "Hands" with Dean Wessman. There are other things these students did that they have written about or would be willing to talk about.
All of the participants stayed in Heritage Center, a 7,000 square foot building which includes: classrooms, a theater, cozy overnight accommodations, kitchen facilities, offices, a library, and computer rooms. Superb meals were served three times a day in the cafeteria/assembly room. Students and adults bunked in dormitory rooms that held six to eight people. Each room had bunk beds, showers, and other bathroom facilities.
The staff from Deep Portage gave high praise to the behavior of this group of sixth grade students. The parent chaperones did a great job too. During both nights, the kids were quiet enough that the chaperones got to play some card games, too the debate over who won still goes on. The parents also gave Dean Wessman and staff feedback for next year, and met once more for a final evaluation.
We appreciate all the people who worked together to make this event possible. Parents and students had several fund raisers ranging from fair concessions to recycling projects. Many businesses, organizations, individuals, and the school board supported this fantastic opportunity for the sixth graders.
Friday noon came all too soon, and after lunch and a few games, the buses were loaded and headed for home. The kids were still enjoying themselves singing the songs they had learned around the campfire and playing games. All of them seemed to be still full of life when they arrived back home at about 4:30 that afternoon.
The whole experience overloaded students with lots of information in a short amount of time and had fun along with the learning.