Fourth grade is the year of the field trip at Rowland Hall.
Each year students head out of the classroom and into some of Utah's most remarkable places. They learn about geology, the water cycle, conservation, and state history. For the first time this year they capped their experiences with an overnight in Mapleton Canyon, where they put their newfound knowledge to the test.
"The concept of an overnight field study just made sense as a culminating experience for students to truly immerse themselves in their home state," said Jij de Jesus, Lower School principal. "It also helped them gain a sense of responsibility and independence as the transition to fifth grade approaches."
Thanks to a generous donation by a Rowland Hall supporter, the school partnered with Find Your Path Utah, a company specializing in experiential education. Founder Tyler Fonarow, a former Rowland Hall administrator and current parent, instantly saw all the marvelous possibilities. And he knew one thing: he didn't want these kids to think of this as just another camping trip.
"We kept it as much like school as possible, as far as the schedule," Tyler said. "We wanted to give them a chance to use the outdoor skills they've built up over the course of the year to understand that learning can happen in any place."
This was about getting our students outside with their classmates to help them see the interconnectedness of the natural and human world around them. —Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus
Our intrepid students faced fun challenges the moment they stepped off the bus in Mapleton: they found out they'd have to hike to their campsite a mile up the canyon while the bus carried their supplies. And it wasn't just a nice stroll up a paved trail—a creek crossing, for one, required creative problem-solving if they wanted to keep their feet dry.
"It was a neat opportunity to have the kids get out of their comfort zone a little bit," Tyler said. "Some kids chose to be carried, some kids chose to put the water shoes on, some kids chose to walk with garbage bags. It's called challenge by choice. It's about pushing the kids to the level where they are comfortable and still challenged."
After the hike in, fourth graders enjoyed activities centered on discovering a sense of place in their environment, studying water science and macroinvertebrates, leaving no trace, and being present.
“This was about getting our students outside with their classmates to help them see the interconnectedness of the natural and human world around them,” Jij said. "The state legislature's recent Utah's Every Kid Outdoors Initiative supports the idea that kids benefit from getting outside, especially with the incredible experiences locally accessible to us."
The lessons stuck with the students. Fourth grader Meg Hoglund said that from now on, whenever she goes fishing with her dad she'll check fishes' mouths for macroinvertebrates. "I also learned that your little piece of trash can contribute to a big problem for the environment later on," she said. "That's why leave no trace means NO trace at all."
At the end of the overnight, the kids wrote poems about the trip. Verses covered an array of memories—from the importance of protecting the watershed, to getting long hair stuck in a zipper. Fourth-grade teacher Matthew Collins said the poems helped students encapsulate their experiences: "With every line, we saw how much they learned and grew and just how much the experiential-education trips of the last year impacted them."