Grove students enjoy new lessons in week-long McKeever program

Valley Grove Elementary School's sixth-grade class visited McKeever last week to learn about their impact on the environment. (Submitted photo)
Staff writer

Valley Grove School District students stepped outside their classroom wall boundaries last week to learn about and live among wildlife.

Sixty-seven sixth-grade students traveled to McKeever Environmental Learning Center in Sandy Lake to attend Sunship Earth, a week-long residential program that aims to teach children planetary and sensory awareness and how they impact the environment.

Created by The Institute for Earth Education, the program is based on national science standards and integrates all disciplines into hands-on learning experiences.

Students were accompanied by sixth-grade teachers Kasey Latshaw, Mark Ferringer, Brandy Jackson and Amanda Culver.

It was the school’s first trip to McKeever, and Latshaw said it was an “awesome” test run.

“Students got to interact with the environment and learn how they are part of it,” Latshaw said. “It was so exciting to see these kids grow in character and work ethic.”

Students were split into “crews” of about 10 children and led by crew counselors. Each crew attended workshops and meals together, where they ate family-style and learned how to cut back on energy waste, Ferringer said.

Ferringer added that, for many students, it was the longest they had been away from their home and/or family.

“It was a huge bonding experience for the sixth graders. It was never an issue of getting over the hurdle of homesickness. It was a confidence-building experience,” Ferringer said.

Students were given the opportunity to expand their friendship circles and they did not want to leave at the end of the week, Latshaw said.

Sixth grader Kimmber Baker said she enjoyed being outdoors and studying aquatic life.

“I love science, and I love learning more things,” Baker said. “It was a new experience, and it’s helping me to view things differently.”

Baker’s classmate Logan Swartz said he learned about respect and felt closer to everyone after the trip.

“I got to connect with people I hadn’t before,” Swartz said.

Students said they had no issue being unplugged from technology for the week and enjoyed “magic spots,” the program’s designated quiet reflection time each day.

Principal Jacob Saullo said students will be able to integrate what they learned during the trip into the state curriculum.

“It (what students learned) carries over not only into the classroom, but how they interact in the world,” Latshaw said.

Not only was the trip life-changing for students, she said, but the teachers came back changed as well.

“We came back as a family, and we bonded with each other and the students,” Latshaw said.

She added it was a special experience for the group to be able to interact outside of the typical classroom setting.

“Everyone has a story,” said Latshaw. “We all got to know each other’s stories.”

Valley Grove staff recognized and thanked local organizations and individual donors who helped make the trip possible. They also thanked the school’s cafeteria staff members who helped contribute to the sixth graders’ cookie fund-raiser.