Unique Learning Experience at Laurenti [UPDATED]Published 12:58pm Thursday, February 7, 2013 Updated 12:59pm Thursday, February 7, 2013
“It was cold.”
This comment is not just the forecast from the first day of school after holiday vacation but a description of the experience of camp at the Laurentian Environmental Center, 15 miles north of Virginia, MN.
“But it was fun!” quickly adds eighth grader, Shelby Jordahl, from Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham, MN. Perham eighth graders have been going to Laurentian since December 2001 for a unique learning experience.
According to its website, the Laurentian Environmental Center is a “public residential facility that combines science, environmental education, leadership training, and outdoor skills recreation programs.” Minnesota Graduation Standards are used to design the program. The facility is open year-round, serving mostly school groups from September through May. Each December, one half of the Perham eighth grade class goes for 4 days, and then the other half travels to camp.
The Laurentian facility fits into the curriculum as Perham Science teacher Rondi Ulmer explains,” We teach decision making and team building in the context of winter survival.”
The “Journey Program” at Laurentian is used for decision making skills. Time frames are erased and problems are solved in the amount of time needed. Asking questions is encouraged. Eighth grader Olivia Strand said this was sometimes the frustrating part. Yet, she enjoyed the feeling she got when the task was accomplished. Caitlyn Munson, echoed that feeling of frustration. Her group had trouble finding a destination in the woods and went terribly out of the way. It meant missing lunch but the group worked together to get back on course.
Laurentian staff is qualified and caring, but using the inquiry method of learning requires that students work as a team rather than just followers on a hike. Teachers and parent chaperones also provide safety to the students. Teachers are responsible for the daily academic activities with students.
The four day program for the Perham eighth graders is as follows.
ALL ELECTRONICS are given to teachers as students load the buses, in case the phones and ipads were not left at home.
Day 1 – Students arrive for lunch and classroom instruction for team building. This is followed by inside and outside activities, supper, and Journey Olympics. Teams compete in team building activities with other teams. Next are academics, survival activity and sauna experience.
Day 2 – This starts with breakfast, and a map and compass class. Called “Trek Day,” students hike through the woods to an assigned location to start a fire and cook a meal. They close with supper, Journey Olympics and academics.
Day 3 – After breakfast, students debrief their experiences from the previous day, learn survival skills and have lunch. The rest of the day is “Survival Night” and they close with academic activities.
Day 4 – After breakfast and debriefing, students perform a summary skit from the week, clean the cabins after lunch and travel home.
Each camper is responsible for the cleaning of cabin areas and turns at kitchen patrol.
Besides team building, another important goal of the Laurentian trip is encourage new relationships among the students. Ulmer explains, “We spend a lot of time orchestrating groups prior to going so we can get a good mix of kids…usually a nice mixture of leaders and non leaders, academically minded and less academically minded, popular and unpopular, etc.”
The result of the mixed groups is positive.
“I made new friends with people I don’t usually talk to in school,” said Shelby. “Now I talk to them more.”
Jenna Bjerke agreed with Shelby. She also had a great time with her cabin mates, now new friends. Josie Beachy thought hanging out in the cabins was fun. She said that she did not mind the absence of electronics.
Besides making new friends, other memorable experiences included solving riddles on survival night, making a fire with a cotton ball or steel wool and a battery, and rolling in the snow after a sauna.
“Squatch calls” was a new skill. Apparently there are different calls for a father Sasquatch, mother Sasquatch and baby Sasquatch. Shelby said the calls resembled the sounds of a dying cow. Unfortunately, none of the mythical Sasquatch creatures appeared despite comical attempts to attract them.
Students pay the majority of the fees to attend camp. Local businesses and the Perham 549 Foundation help to offset the remainder of the costs and aid for students with financial difficulties.
The Laurentian experience makes a difference in the lives of these students. Ulmer says, “It is the best thing we do all year with kids. “It is the thing every one of them remembers at graduation and beyond.”
Although the students didn’t know exactly what to expect before they went, Shelby, Olivia, Jenna, Caitlyn, and Josie all agree that they would go back any day.
Their advice for eighth graders going to Laurentian in the future:
take the compass class,
ask a lot of questions,
and OVER pack clothes to stay warm!