CHESTERTOWN — Over five weeks in October, 125 sixth-graders from Kent County Middle School have been meeting their classmates and teachers for the first time in-person this academic year during programs at Echo Hill Outdoor School.
The first few weeks of their middle school experience have all been online, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Blended from elementary schools all over the county, the students are surrounded by new faces, with new teachers, in a new school.
In order to help these students meet new friends and connect in-person with their classmates and teachers, KCMS and Echo Hill partnered to create five special Friday experiences, according to a news release.
Through socially distanced outdoor activities, middle schoolers are getting off the screen and into the woods for some team building in nature’s classroom.
“It’s fun to connect the faces with the one-by-one square on the screen,” said Deborah Skinner, a sixth-grade KCMS teacher. “Their true essence comes out when they’re out here. It’s awesome.”
In groups of eight to 10, students are paired up with an Echo Hill staff naturalist and their classroom teacher for an afternoon that is decidedly low-tech and hands-on. Masks up, arms length apart, students hike the Howell Point trail and look for pawpaws, make DIY popcorn at the Native American site, pick herbs at the campus garden and build survivor-style driftwood forts along the beach, the release states.
Play, exploration and conversation are encouraged and each activity is tailored to maximize teamwork and sense of group achievement.
“I want to work here when I’m older,” said Tucker, a sixth-grade student with marlin and fishing rods on his mask. “I’m going to make shelters on the beach and catch my own fish!”
The KCMS students are the first to return to Echo Hill since the March lockdown started.
“It’s amazing to have them back on campus,” said Ian Harrison, staff naturalist and captain at Echo Hill. “It’s perfect — these small groups, enjoying this beautiful campus. This is what we do best.”
Echo Hill was established in 1972 to provide outdoor education programs to students and teachers from throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Specializing in immersive, experiential programs, many of Echo Hill’s classes are currently offered as digital lessons and can be customized to the needs of classes, school groups, or microschools.
For more information or to arrange a program, visit ehos.org or call 410-348-5880.