Choosing Challenge: Summer Connections Week 4

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Braving muggy weather, mosquitoes, and quicksand-like mud known as “detritis,” students entered the salt marsh for “the best Ranger Time yet!” Students stuck their feet into sandy, knee high boots and set off to explore organisms first-hand in the island classroom. Although at first uncomfortable with the rubber boots and crabs scrambling around the marsh, students chose to rise to the occasion- and reaped the rewards.

Prior to entering the marsh, each student received a laminated card with a photo of an organism essential to the ecosystem. From the snowy egret, to cattails to even the sun, the individual elements on the card play essential roles in the survival of the salt marsh. The students were tasked with finding his or her individual feature and explaining its role in the marsh.

Hesitation to immerse themselves in the marsh quickly turned into excitement. Bursting with curiosity, students waded in boot-deep, equipped with handheld nets and buckets, ready to pick up crabs. With the IntraNaturalistic app on Ranger Kathy’s phone, students examined organisms such as the mummichog, otherwise known as a “mud minnow,” with a close-up camera that delivered factual information on the species. After discovering detritus, a sticky black sand produced by the decomposition of dead organisms, they smothered the substance across their arms and faces, and Ranger Kathy noted that detritus serves as an excellent exfoliator for the skin.

While in the marsh one student exclaimed, “I’ve never walked in water like this before today,” while another spread out her arms and announced, “I love this place!” Exploration of the salt marsh perfectly illustrates the use of the island classroom, and the choice of the students to challenge themselves beyond their comfort zones.

During week four, students eventually stepped out of their boots and into their climbing harnesses for the penultimate challenge of the summer, the Alpine Tower. At sixty two feet tall, the Alpine Tower requires teamwork, self-reliance, and bravery. The students channeled all they had learned during the summer to ascend its peak. After reaching the top, one student shared, “It was amazing because I went really high up and the view was beautiful. I had to push myself and it was difficult, but it was worth it.”

For many, the Alpine Tower stood out instantly as the highlight of the summer. “It was definitely my favorite part of the summer because it was really challenging, but at the same time interesting. Climbing made me come out of my panic zone and made me go into my comfort zone.” Each student defined “success,” a little bit differently- for some, just the act of putting on the harness, strapping in, and reaching the first platform was a moment of victory; for others, it was reaching the topmost part of the tower. Regardless, the Alpine Tower brought out the best in the students and saw them choosing to challenge themselves as never before this summer.

With self-reliance as the pillar of the week, students participated in field games, basketball, and slime-making, emphasizing reliance on their own intuition while also assisting their peers. For example, during slime-making, facilitators asked the students with experience to lead small groups and teach those who had never made slime. In this sense, students used their own skills to help those around them learn and succeed.

Thanks for reading!

Laura, Communications Intern