Last week the middle school students spent four days in the Shawnee National Forest hiking, canoeing, and observing the landscape around them. Excursions were made under the guidance of Land for Learning outdoor educators. It is the ninth year the middle school has traveled to this unique biosystem in southern Illinois, home to the largest variety of animal and plant species east of the Mississippi River.
Students learned that this swath of Illinois is where glaciers from the north and the ancient ocean from the south deposited seeds and animals and insects, accounting for such anomalies as more than 25 types of oak trees in a relatively small area. Students also encountered cliffs of 350 million year old sandstone, evidence of the long ago ocean.
On a rainy Wednesday, half of the students proved to themselves that they could canoe through the rain, search for relatively dry wood, and make a lunchtime fire under a dry bluff. The other group took a guided hike and built trails, which involved the hard work of removing earth and roots with shovels. On Thursday, the groups swapped activities.
The value of these challenging excursions may not be easily apparent to the students, but the adults watched as the middle schoolers helped each other up and down muddy hills, shared jackets, and sang songs while they paddled to buoy their spirits.
The following days were dry and pleasant and included an evening talent show by the fire and quiet contemplation on the beach. In between activities, the kids had plenty of time to play basketball and frisbee and enjoy each other’s company. This trip presented the perfect combination of challenge and joy for the Crossroads middle schoolers and allowed them to get to know each other and themselves even better.