This week, our 7th graders ventured up to Brown County State Park in Indiana for their outdoor education trip. This location was a first for us, so they got to be explorers in seeing whether this park fit the bill as a good location for hiking and class bonding. Overall, we were blessed with great weather – only chilly the first night (mid-40s) before soaring to the upper 70s on Tuesday! And fortunately, no rain, although the high winds literally blew some of our tents out of the ground! Learning to prepare properly for the weather (and what life brings you) is part of the point of these excursions.

The area was very beautiful! It was a homecoming of sorts for me as Indiana University is only 15 miles up the road (of course I never made it into the park as an undergrad!). Here are some of the highlights from the trip:

Some groups hiked to and climbed a tall fire tower! The view at the top above the trees was impressive, naturally, and the whooshing winds up high were both cooling and calming (even if Angela Ponzio wouldn’t climb up with us). One of our hikes, which all three groups did, led to a gorgeous lake with lots of turtles sunning themselves and one unexpected encounter with a large snake doing the same! We found out later this was a harmless copperbelly water snake, but it still gave many of us the willies.

We spent some silent time both hiking and sitting near the lake, which isn’t the easiest feat to accomplish with 7th graders. Some didn’t understand the point at first, but most did afterwards. Watching the wind “dance” across the lake surface was worth the “price of admission” all on its own! As with our 8th grade trip, we built campfires both nights and had meaningful conversations around them on topics such as leadership and attitudes. We also discussed parables and their meanings, and examined our strengths and challenges on this trip. This is one of the areas where the kids shine, and this trip was no different.

We were treated to lots of coyotes yipping and howling at night. And while you’re safely hunkered down in your sleeping bag, it still sends a little chill up your spine! We did some fun and challenging team-building activities in between hikes during the day. The kids jumped into them feet-first, and were real troopers.

And we had lunch on the way home at the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge in Seymour, Indiana. This refuge is a wetlands and haven for waterfowl, and we found out that in the fall and winter, they host upwards of 30,000 sandhill cranes in their park! THAT needs to be seen! The park personnel were gracious hosts and gave us compliments on our 7th graders’ behavior at the end.

So you can see, it was a short trip but packed full of rewarding activities. Of course, the kids also enjoy the social opportunities, cooking their own food (usually), and just being together. All of these trips from 5th grade on lead to the 8th grade Big South Fork trip which is the most demanding trip, but also incredibly rewarding. Big thanks are in order to Patrick Donovan for planning and leading the 7th grade trip, and to watch group leaders Angela Ponzio, Salema Jenkins, Danny Ruano, and Christine Brinkmann.