From Jeff Luther, FAIS Middle School teacher (Language & Literature, Individuals & Societies, Digital Design) and Outdoor School Coordinator
Middle school students this week shot arrows, started fires, and built shelters in the forest as part of the first-ever FAIS “Trackers” days. Centered around the FAIS forest, each grade spent an entire day outside with a team of instructors from Portland’s “Trackers” organization. The main purpose of the day was to build community within the grades as well as to practice communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills.
When it became clear that outdoor school wouldn’t happen for our sixth graders due to the Covid pandemic, it was decided that we’d try to bring a little bit of outdoor school to them. The idea was eventually expanded to include the seventh and eighth grade students as well. Beth Clifton (FAIS Forest Manager) was instrumental in putting the program together, with the support of Emmanuelle Burk (Middle School Division Head) and Scott Hardister (Head of School). A team of 12 instructors from Trackers came to the FAIS campus to work with the students on a range of community-building activities as well as some wilderness survival skills. Through it all, students were able to get a full immersive experience here in our forest.
After spending the last year in some form of online learning, the students seemed to appreciate the opportunity to put down the chromebooks and have some fun outdoors with each other. Middle school teachers observed lots of smiles, waving, and showing off what they were doing. “I liked the fire making station and the archery the best. I accidently went to my baseball game with charcoal still on my face,” said sixth-grader Grady.
Students were organized into cohort groups to maintain standard COVID protocol. Even a little rain on Wednesday and Thursday didn’t seem to dampen spirits. “That Trackers day was so fun,” exclaimed Max H, who also enjoyed the carving activity.
The Trackers instructors also seemed to enjoy the time with our students, and they were also impressed with the students’ knowledge of the forest and the native plants.
Students were able to debrief and reflect on their activities later in the week in Language & Literature and Advisory. The following are some sample comments from the students:
“For me, the purpose of trackers was a group community-building exercise. It was fun and groups form bonds in times like that. We learned things and played games and made memories of each other outside of a classroom. This was an important day.”
“This was important for me because I got to do stuff I had never done before in my life. It was very fun and we got to meet people we didn’t know before. I learned stuff that might help me one day in the wild.”
“The experience was important to me because I feel like we needed to get outside and have fun and learn about the outside after doing school inside and online for six months. I learned more about archery and it was fun to be able to play dodge-arrow.” (Note: This was done in a completely safe way!)
One student was overheard summing it up like this: “We should do this everyday!”