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Brewster Middle Schoolers Get Back to Nature at Sharpe Reservation

seventh graders explore pond water During a recent field trip, Henry H. Wells seventh graders found themselves in a different kind of learning environment. There were no desks or smartboards. No books or computers. Instead, there were expansive nature trails, streams, ponds, and a whole lot of fresh air. Students were visiting Sharpe Reservation, a more than 2,000-acre space in East Fishkill that offers hands-on year-round environmental educational programs.

Sharpe, which is part of the Fresh Air Fund, has programs that focus on teaching team-building, problem solving, critical thinking, and effective communication all while learning about the environment and exploring nature. The programs mesh well with the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan, which works to instill the same skills in students.

The experience was a big hit. Seventh grader Andrew Maresca, for one, really enjoyed it.

“The counselors were very nice,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

The team-building activities were one of his favorite parts — especially a game they played called Shepherd. During the game, students were separated into a shepherd and his or her flock of “sheep.” While the sheep wore blindfolds, the shepherd directed them into their pen without using words. They could clap or baaa but they had to communicate with their peers without giving them specific direction. 

“We had to come up with a system that told us what direction to go in,” Maresca explained, laughing at the memory.

Living Environment teacher Janice Driscoll and her colleagues Katie Allen and Kirsten Rusinko were also impressed by the team-building exercises. 

“It was a great experience for them,” Driscoll said. “They weren’t grouped with their friends necessarily so they made new friends, they had new experiences, they worked as a group. I am thrilled.”

Another activity Maresca enjoyed was learning about water quality. Students dipped strips of paper into a stream and matched the color the paper turned to a printed key.

“We learned a lot about what creatures live in this specific quality of water,” Maresca said. “We went fishing with nets and learned that the stream was perfect for frogs. We caught a lot of frogs. We also caught a water snake.”

Students also got to go on one of two hikes: one was scenic, the other historic. According to Driscoll, many of the students didn’t have a lot of experience with the outdoors.

“Before we went on the trip a lot of students said things like ‘I don’t really go out in the woods very much’ or ‘I’m not sure what’s in a stream or a pond,’” Driscoll explained. But the trip changed a lot of that.  

 “We had these really awesome outdoor educators,” she said. “They exposed students to things they have never really experienced before.”

 Whether it was identifying organisms from the stream or examining a trail that had seen tornado damage, students were encouraged to look at everything around them a little more closely.

 “Many of them really never thought about developing their observational skills,” Driscoll said. “They were definitely more aware of the things around them.”

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