The Great Outdoor(s) School

By Nisha M. ’25
Photos by Mrs. Noecker

Over two exciting nights, the sixth grade learned about many different aspects of nature, in addition to team-building skills and how to work together on our trip to Outdoor School at the Penn State Nature Center at Shaver’s Creek.

The class, counselors, and teachers all ate together, “family style,” passing plates and serving others. At the beginning and end of every meal, we sang songs about the Earth and gardening.

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We went outside at night for activities with our cabin groups that required a lot of collaboration. The cabin groups would work together to figure out how to complete the challenge. This teamwork is not only an important social skill for us to know now, it is also a vital, long-term skill that will help all of us later on.

In our learning groups, we went to the creek to learn about the water cycle. We learned all about pollution by inspecting the water to find small creatures who are either pollution-tolerant or intolerant. Afterward, we made Soil Soup, whose broth was creek water and into which we added moss, crushed rocks and more. Then we were told that it wouldn’t be finished for at least 100 years, because that is how long it takes for soil to develop. This activity helped everyone learn about the importance of the tiniest bit of soil, as well as erosion.

Another particularly memorable experience was a visit from a broad shouldered hawk named Tea. We learned about the characteristics of raptors, while the hawk flew around and was rewarded with rabbit meat.

This fun and thrilling day ended with a nighttime hike. To learn about nocturnal animals that largely depend on their hearing, like owls, we played games where we had to rely on hearing only. At the end, a counselor performed the calls of three owls native to Pennsylvania, to see if any would call back. Although no owls answered the calls, we still had a blast.

We went back in time to the 1800s to learn about different jobs people did out of necessity in the past, such as making butter, weaving and woodworking. The counselors, all Penn State students, dressed up to match their profession. Some showed us old wooden toys and games, while others were contemporary archaeologists, trying to better understand the lives of people from a long time ago, based on the artifacts that remained of their presence.

Our trip to Outdoor School was a wonderful learning experience for all of the students. It was a great way to become more independent and self-reliant, while also having fun the entire time.

Echo Hill: A Final Salute to the Class of 2023’s Fall Retreats

By Luke B. ’23
Photos by Mrs. Wilikofsky

This past week, the eighth grade went on a fun-filled yet educational trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School, on the eastern shore of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. After a two hour bus ride, we arrived at the school. It was cold and wet, but the weather could not dampen our spirits. The counselors greeted us at the dirt road leading up to the dorms and dining hall, and as we lugged our bags through the winding trail, we could not help but wonder what was in store for us over the next few days.

We were not disappointed.

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Every morning, we were woken up about an hour after sunrise by a large metal bell outside our dorms. The concept of time wasn’t relevant in this secluded region of the bay. There weren’t any clocks on campus, and if you inquired what time it was, the counselors would most likely respond, “It’s Echo Hill Time.” The idea was to help us enjoy our three hour activities rather than constantly be checking our watches.

After enjoying a delicious breakfast of cheese omelets, bagels and more, we would receive our schedule for the day. We would spend the majority of each day with our tribes, each made up of 10-12 students and a rotating roster of counselors. We might start off with an adventure class, where we swung 50 feet above the ground in pure ecstasy, or climb a 70-foot tower with our classmates cheering us on. Maybe we’d just play dodgeball, laughing as foam balls whistled past our heads.

And then, after a lunch of chicken, cornbread and mashed potatoes, we might walk the circuitous paths of the farm and visit the goats, feeding them and watching them interact as we discussed survival instincts of herbivores and how they have been biologically conditioned to avoid an untimely demise.

To follow up on the theme of survival, we walked down to the beach and learned how to build fires and small, wind-resistant shelters using only the resources around us. We’d use pine needles and twigs as kindling, and dry wood to build our shelters. We realized that submerged aquatic vegetation was useful for blocking out the wind, and since we were feet from the bay, it was quite blustery.

We’d walk in complete darkness at night, reveling among the nocturnal wildlife and watching the high tide twinkle with the lights of Baltimore from across the bay. Or we’d go canoeing through swampland that had been preserved for more than 70 years, while vultures and small animals looked down at us imperoiusly. After our evening activities, we’d reunite each night at a campfire, where the counselors would serenade us with guitars and lively tunes.

Echo Hill was an experience none of us will ever forget. We bonded as a class, and the class consensus is that it was an amazing final Middle School trip for our grade to enjoy together.

Class of ’24 Climbs to New Heights at Refreshing Mountain

By Julia B. ’24
Photos by Ms. Kenny

Team building can be a difficult task, especially in Middle School. The seventh grade accepted that challenge on its trip last week to Refreshing Mountain Retreat and Adventure Center. Fears were faced when flying down ziplines, and bonds were made around a fun-filled campfire. The main goal of the trip was to connect the class as a whole, and we came out of the trip stronger as a group.

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One of the most difficult things for many people was the giant swing. It is called the giant swing because you are harnessed to a rope and the entire team pulls you up to the top of a pole. You then pull a cord and swing back and forth until lowered back to the ground. A lot of my classmates were very uneasy about it, including myself, but others put forth encouragement to give nearly everyone enough confidence to do the activity. One of the craziest things about the swing is you have to do it yourself. Once you get all the way up, there is no way down other than to pull the tiny orange cord that will cause you to fall backward. You need to have faith in yourself and in the knowledge that you’ll be safe.

While being fun, lots of these activities taught us values that we will keep with us forever. We learned the most from the team-building activities. Many of these revolved around listening to each other to solve puzzles. Our group quickly found this was not easy because we all have such different personalities. Therefore, these activities also taught us more about ourselves. We saw who fit into a leadership position and who would follow along. It took patience, perseverance and logic to get it done, but we all found the answer to each puzzle. We found that sometimes all it takes is communication between one another or just simple manners. If our grade had not taken this adventure together, we would not be as close as we are now.

The zipline was the highlight of the trip. Lots of our group had been ziplining before. For me, it was a new experience. I have always been scared of heights, but for this trip I decided, along with many of my classmates, to get over that fear. My class pushed me to make the decision to go, and for that I am thankful. Over the three days, we changed a great deal. I saw the side of my classmates that showed support for each other. It was truly a special thing to behold.

As I went down the zipline, I could hear the group cheering me on. I felt like I could do anything, just because of that reliance I knew I could place on my classmates.

The Class of 2024 went into the trip as classmates, but we came out a connected group of friends. We never realized that racing each other in go-karts and freezing while waiting to take our turn on activities was bringing us closer.

The seventh grade needed a trip like Refreshing Mountain to challenge us. Even though we learned many things on the trip, the most important discovery we made was that that we could rely on each other.

Spirit Week & TACO in Photographs

Experience the story of Spirit Week through the lenses of Cougar News Photography Interns Hayden F. ’20, Arielle B. ’21, and seniors Carly C. and Mason L. Their teacher, Donna Wilcox, was a fellow visual raconteur, chronicling Take A Child Outside Week. We would also like to thank Dr. Trout, Mrs. Trout and Mr. Lisk for contributing photos. Finally, we doff our hats to the senior class, who did primary colors proud by wearing red to victory in Color Wars 2018.

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raceforhome — Mason