Friday, October 19, 2012

Into the Woods..with 50 Fifth Graders

This week my 5th Graders took an overnight trip to a nature preserve. The students rotated through a variety of learning sessions with titles like Forest Ecology and GPS Orienteering. I led a session on writing from observation, which tied in quite nicely with our ongoing Writers' Workshop PBL on memoir writing. Without the pressure of papers to grade and emails to answer, I realized that I was totally free to write alongside my students, coming up with my own narrative of our trip...

With our bags stowed in the cavernous belly of the bus, 47 students and 4 teachers take their seats and set out for the woods. A busted DVD player and scratchy radio reception forces us to be creative, and the girls sing snippets of pop songs, emulating the radio stations we would have liked to flip through. The passing scenery hints at our destination as skyscrapers and parked cars give way to the view of the Palisades. From the GW Bridge we gasp at the wall of orange, yellow and red rising out of the river below us. In the city we forget about fall foliage, but this excursion is our reminder that life is different off the island.

Voices go quiet as we turn off the main highway and into the dense forest. Our oversized bus feels particularly cumbersome as it navigates the narrow, winding roads that lead to the lodge. The view from my window is dramatic; breathtaking are both the gold-hued treetops and the sharp drop to the forest floor below. There is something unique about taking city kids to the country like this. On their home turf these kids jaywalk with ease, hold themselves tall in the face of an anxious taxi cab driver, wait impatiently with one foot off the curb as the light changes. These kids have adapted to the ways of their native city, and for them life moves fast. But in the country, there are wide open spaces, no traffic to speak of, and we all relish the change of scenery. We spend our first hour in the large field adjacent to our lodge. The kids are completely engaged as they explore, climbing over logs and small mounds of rocks, balancing on fallen branches, running, shrieking, doing all those things we have to forbid in the confines of our classrooms.

On an overnight trip, 4p.m. rolls around and with it the realization that quitting time is still 24 hours away. But a second wind always comes. During those evening hours, roles blur as classmates and teachers sit together at the dinner table, later sharing cleanup chores, still later, in pajamas, brushing teeth and getting ready for bed. Any teacher will attest that overnight trips are exhausting, but as my colleague said when our bus pulled back up to school this afternoon, "None of us were in it for the sleep."

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