Guest blog post by Science Educator Robin Chernow
During the summer season, we offer open enrollment programs for middle and high school students. Any middle or high school student can sign up, and usually, none of the students in the same program know each other. As a staff, we work hard to establish a welcoming community and a positive culture on the island. Throughout the week, the students warm up to each other, and the community strengthens as students are building it, not just the staff.
During the fall, we work directly with schools to enroll a whole group of students, along with teachers and chaperones. For these programs, the students and teachers already know each other. They bring the culture of their school and their community to Hurricane Island. This is awesome because the groups are already cohesive and have strategies for working together. This was especially true of the North Haven 5th and 6th graders who were here last week. The ten students in the 5th and 6th grade know each other incredibly well, having been classmates for years. As soon as they hopped off the boat, I noticed how the North Haven students were comfortable with each other and were ready to take on new challenges. While summer programs required me to draw individuals into the Hurricane Island community, with this group, I worked to integrate the cultures of both communities, and I had fun seeing how that played out.
The theme for North Haven’s visit was survival. It’s also the theme of their first unit of the school year for all their subjects, from the books they read in literature, to their historical studies, to their art projects. It is a fun theme to tackle from a science and leadership perspective, especially with a group that is already cohesive and ready to work as a team. They were excited to tackle navigation, raft construction, fire building, and foraging for the next two days.
We started by working on our navigation skills. We checked out a bunch of different maps to figure out what they have in common, and then we became familiar with the 360 degrees of a compass to find and take bearings. All this was in preparation for a challenge on the south end of the island. We split into pairs and each group hid a treasure, and then wrote out the distances and directions to guide another group to the treasure. Groups traded multiple times so we had ample practice using compasses and following directions. I was impressed! The groups took the challenge seriously, trying to stump each other with multi-step instructions, yet they all persevered and worked together to ultimately uncover each hidden treasure.
Another survival-themed undertaking was a fun engineering project, a favorite among many of our programs: the raft challenge! Before getting started with the rafts, we all practiced four types of knots: the double half hitch, the clove hitch, the bowline, and the square knot, so we would know both how to tie them and the circumstances when they are useful. Then we headed up to the ice pond and split into two teams. Teams had access to ropes, plastic barrels, and bamboo poles. The goal was to make a raft that could transport the entire team across the pond, whether all students at once or in multiple trips was up to each team to decide. Teams worked furiously brainstorming, prototyping, and rejecting old designs, before launching the rafts into the pond.
The raft challenge was FUN. I enjoyed hearing the students’ different ideas and watching them construct multiple iterations, but what I enjoyed even more was seeing them in the water, determined to have their rafts make the trek. Neither group’s raft was structurally sound long enough to complete the challenge, but that didn’t stop the students from making sure the components of the raft made it across the pond. The students kicked, swam, and laughed, working together and having fun with some friendly competition.
We headed to dinner after a long, packed day, and I was pleasantly surprised by the students’ adventurous palates, their gratitude, and their readiness to jump in and help with dishes. Sometimes younger students feel comforted by simple foods, but this group went right ahead to try the sweet potato dumplings and the spinach, feta, and egg tart. They kept thanking our chefs Eric and Philip and gave rave reviews of the food thus far (there may have been a few not-so-subtle hints about hoping for bacon in the morning). The students then rotated through dish-washing stations, and they took pride in the job they were doing, nearly pushing each other aside to jump in and help. The North Haven group had arrived less than ten hours prior, and they were already proud to contribute to our community on Hurricane. Some of this probably comes from feeling a strong community at home, and some comes from recognizing the community on our island.
After dinner, we were back on the survival theme, collecting tinder, kindling, and fuel wood for our own campfire. After acknowledging that all fires need a spark, fuel, and oxygen, we were ready to put the academics aside for the night and focus on s'mores. With most groups that come to the island, campfires lead to singing, and North Haven was no exception! These students then shared all the songs they had been practicing at school, and they burned off what little energy they had left at the end of the day.
The next morning after breakfast (yes, there was bacon), we split into two groups for stations exploring survival from the food perspective. Fellow Science Educator Josh took students on a foraging hike, teaching about edible plants and their nutritional value, before tasting some goldenrod spruce tea on the trail.
The other half of the group joined Silas and me on a quick boat ride out to our kelp aquaculture site to take a different angle on survival. We considered how humans, especially in coastal populations, rely on the oceans for food sources, and aquaculture, or the cultivation of aquatic organisms, is a potential solution to our society’s food needs. After harvesting some kelp, and becoming experts on algae anatomy, we headed into the galley to prepare some kelp chips to accompany lunch!
Thinking about food was a great way to work up an appetite. After hearing rumors about a brick oven pizza lunch, some of our North Haven students suggested a chicken alfredo pizza, and Eric and Philip delivered. The kids loved how their suggestion made its way onto the menu, and I felt refreshed by their candid conversations and optimism as they had interacted with numerous staff members the past few days. Sitting outside together and milling about was a fun way for us all to close out the field trip. The survival theme was a welcome twist on our STEM programs. More importantly, the students embraced their time on the island and made positive impacts on our island community.