By Laura Hunt, 3rd grade teacher
In 2014, Lower School launched an overnight adventure opportunity for twelve upper elementary students. Moses Brown faculty partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s education department to design an experience that would speak to our values as a Friends school. We spent four days and three nights as a team exploring the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The program’s overwhelming success led us to offer it to third and fourth graders again this year.
After a 3 ½ hour bus ride, our journey began to take shape at the Highland Center, located in Crawford Notch. Students were immediately drawn to the nature-based playground and to the good food we would enjoy throughout our stay. We were introduced to our education team, Jeremy and Tess, who reviewed our itinerary and outlined the “leave no trace” principles we would follow. Settling into our simply outfitted bunk rooms, we realized that, for some students, this was the first night they would sleep away from family members.
Our second day in New Hampshire was filled with great anticipation. In 2014, we had hiked almost two miles of rocky terrain to Lonesome Lake. This year, we had planned a longer, but less steep, trek to Zealand Falls. Each student was responsible for their own clothing and gear. They had carefully sorted and repacked only what they needed for our backcountry hike. Keeping our packs light was a priority. We shuttled to the trail head early in the morning, where each student was assigned a role, such as leader, navigator, or water reminder. Resting, snacking, and playing games along the way helped us slow down time. As we distanced ourselves from the more familiar sounds and sights of the road, students’ observation skills became keener. They noticed the unique smell of the woods, the song of the hermit thrush, and the delicate lady’s slippers lining the trail.
Students’ self-reliance and problem-solving skills are put to the test when they stay at the huts. There is cold running water, but no showers. There are a few board games to play, but no phones or electronics. We sleep on bunks that are stacked three high, and we clean up after ourselves. Sometimes there are bugs. The upsides are numerous as well. Each step is met with beautiful views, we share meals and laughter with people from other places, and we get to know our schoolmates more deeply. A highlight of each trip has been a longer day hike to a more remote location. Gazing over a valley on our way to Thoreau Falls this year, one student expressed that it was “so big and so beautiful, it almost doesn’t seem real.” Impressions such as this are lasting.
Children’s curiosity and ability to make connections seem to come alive in the wilderness. Our hope is that spending uninterrupted, focused time outdoors with our students will help them feel compelled to preserve and protect natural environments. Working through authentic problems as a team will strengthen their belief in the power of their communities. The Lower School trip to the White Mountains is one way students can experience firsthand Moses Brown’s commitment to the utmost care for learning, people, and place.