Powhatan School’s annual 6th Grade Survival Trip took place last week. The trip is a hallmark of the Upper School experience and is a cross-curricular effort between the English Department, the Science Department and the NEAL program.
The 6th Grade Survival Trip is a custom-designed 2-day overnight trip along the Shenandoah River that is organized by Upper School faculty and led by Mountain View Ltd., which specializes in teaching primitive living skills and survival activities.
“We are firm believers that students learn by doing,” says Upper School science teacher Mr. Ray Legge. “This trip in particular is a great example of the true value of experiential learning and cross-curricular learning. On the first day the 6th Grade learned about water safety, how to build fires and traps, paddled in rafts, and set up camp along the river.
“We used rafts this year instead of canoes and kayaks because the recent rains had raised the water level considerably,” said Mr. Legge. “I think the students enjoyed it.”
The students spend quality time in the outdoors and learn the self-sufficiency needed to stay in the outdoors by choice or by need. The program reinforces and expands on the classroom curriculum of the survival literature unit and the life science unit by offering insight into the history of the residents of the area and by demonstrating actual examples of the technology and culture of early local Native Americans. Specifically, the students learn how food is obtained in the wild, how to build friction fires, make tools, create string from plant material and practice archery.
The outdoor survival activities parallel the fiction adventure Hatchet, the first unit of study in 6th Grade English.
“They re-create a scene in the book during the trip where Brian, the main character, makes fire by gathering material in the woods,” recalls Mrs. Louise Jaffe, who teaches 6th Grade English at Powhatan. “The students have been reading the book and the survival trip activities make the literature come alive for them.
“We found turtles, went rafting down the river, and learned about living in the wild,” said Myah, a 6th grade student, who had just returned from the trip Friday afternoon.
There were plenty of other examples of how the trip related to the book.
“We are reading Hatchet in English class, and we had to survive like Brian does in the book,” said Julija, another 6th grader. “We went rafting down the river, like Brian crosses a lake in the book. It was really cool.”
“We learned about archery, blow darts, making traps,” said their classmate Elizabeth. “We learned how to build a fire, which was fun.”
How did it start?
“Back in 1998 I was teaching 6th grade English and we were reading Hatchet by Gary Paulson,” says Mrs. Kathleen Hobbs, an Upper School Science and Language Arts teacher. “My son completed a primitive skills camp with Michael Sottosanti, and he loved it. We are always looking at how to combine cross-curricular studies and decided to bring the program to Powhatan. It fits wonderfully into the NEAL program and our outdoor education program, in addition to the combination of 6th Grade English and Science.”