Every fall, Barnesville seventh graders spend three days and two nights at Echo Hill Outdoor School on the Chesapeake Bay for an environmental science field study program and team building activities.
The outdoor school sits alongside The Big Marsh, a freshwater shrub swamp protected by the Nature Conservancy. Its campus includes 172 acres of beaches, marshes, forests, and fields abundant with wildlife. Additional facilities include a barnyard with goats, a recycling center, an organic garden, a Native American site, and a fleet of historic wooden Chesapeake workboats. Barnesville students attend classes and workshops about the relationships among the various ecosystems as well as the surrounding farms and businesses.
A highlight of the trip each year is a class called Bay Studies. Students take a tour of the Chesapeake Bay to learn about water properties such as salinity and turbidity as well as components of the estuary ecosystem such as Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (seaweed). There is a wide variety of aquatic life, and this year, students caught, observed, and touched American Eels, Pumpkin Seed Fish, Catfish, and Blue Crabs. A brave few students even kissed the fish they caught (a long-standing tradition).
Echo Hill partners with local farms and fishing industry organizations to give students a broader understanding of how environmental stewardship relates to jobs and the economy. Students attended a Farm Ecology class that included visits to several different farms in Kent County. They also visited a Purdue grain facility to understand how food is produced, where it is processed, and the role of farmers in agribusiness.
“In talking to the knowledgeable Echo Hill teachers and guides, the students got a better understanding of where their food comes from, the work entailed, and the impact on the environment,” said Middle School Science Teacher Elizabeth De Leon. “After every meal any extra stuff left on plates (S.L.O.P.) was weighed, and a S.L.O.P. song was sung to encourage students to reduce waste by only taking as much food as they could eat. I think the kids loved singing the S.L.O.P. songs and started to understand that the resources we have are finite and that they can help the environment by being less wasteful.”
Navigating the swamp via “scanoo” (three canoes tied together), students observed different species of native and invasive plants. As a team-building exercise, students braved a High Ropes Course that included climbing 40 feet up to a platform and then ziplining back down. Nighttime adventures included a hike in the woods to test students’ night vision and a peaceful moment of silence on the beach.
When it was time for the three-day trip to end, and the bus rolled down the dirt road for the trek home, students were sad to leave. They made many memories, learned a lot about their own watershed, and brought many new ideas about how to protect their environment back to school. It was yet another successful adventure for Barnesville students at Echo Hill.