Langley 8th graders learn amongst the trees

Gwyn Ramsay, 13, Makeda Browne, 14 and Franklyn Wooldridge, 13, wrap their arms around a tree. - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Gwyn Ramsay, 13, Makeda Browne, 14 and Franklyn Wooldridge, 13, wrap their arms around a tree.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Chairs were replaced by logs, desks by laps and textbooks by the real thing — nature. Students went beyond the controlled environment of a typical classroom and into the forest this week.

Langley Middle School eighth graders enjoyed a day at South Whidbey State Park as part of a weeks-long learning project on local history. Four groups of about 30 students visited the park each day last week to learn and be inspired.

The trip aimed to connect students to the park and show they are part of it as well, said Susie Richards, co-director of Service, Education & Adventure (SEA).

“Our belief is that the most important way to learn is with hands-on, direct experience,” she added.

The field trip was a collaboration among several non-profit organizations including SEA, South Whidbey Schools Foundation and Friends of South Whidbey State Park.

Nels Bergquist, an English and social studies teacher at the middle school, said getting students into the woods is important. Most good, inspired writing is done outdoors and he wants to provide that opportunity for his students, he said.

Bergquist added it was important for him to make these lessons memorable for students. He doesn’t recall the day-to-day activities he did in middle school, “But I sure do remember the field trips,” he enthusiastically said.

The day combined many different lessons, from local history and writing to stewardship.

In one rotation, students hiked Wilbert Trail and identified trees and natural occurrences, such as fallen trees or fire remnants, they saw along the way. They also had time to write poetry, remove invasive species and ask questions of presenters, such as Sue Ellen White, poet Elizabeth Davis and State Park Ranger Kevin Leese.

This was the first year students from the middle school took a trip to the state park. For 13-year-old Maitu Manupule, it was much more fun than regular field trips.

“Usually we go to Langley to write, but this is way better,” he said.

Manupule also enjoyed his time learning and observing at the park.

“I like trees and writing in nature,” he said.

Middle school student James Hauser, 14, said the forest felt ominous with the surrounding trees and made him feel small, like an ant.

“It seems so peaceful,” he said looking up at the trees. “I like it better than being in school. It’s almost like skipping a day.”

Funding for the trip was provided by a $2,000 grant from the South Whidbey Schools Foundation. The money covered the cost of coordination and materials for the field trip. It was one of the largest grants distributed this year by the group.

Jean Shaw, secretary of the schools foundation, was there to see the impact the trip had on students. Shaw watched students remove holly and connect with nature. She said she was impressed with their efforts to improve the park.

“They’re doing something real and learning about science and nature — I love it,” she said.

She added she was happy to help provide these opportunities for teachers and their students.

“The state can only give so much to each school,” she said. “But there’s so much out there in the world that will help them be better at writing. This makes me believe even more about this type of learning.”


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