Thursday, September 15, 2011

The NHCS High School Fall Expedition

For more than fifteen years, the high school students and staff of NHCS have undertaken a 4 - 5 day experiential learning wilderness “expedition” at the start of the school year.  The planning and scheduling of an annual fall expedition has been approved in concept as a part of the school’s curriculum and program by the Board of Directors of MSAD #7.  

The high school fall trip has evolved over the years from a wilderness team-building experience to a more curriculum-based, integrated field study expedition.  Planning for each fall’s trip has been a collaboration between students and staff, with much of the actual preparation legwork being done by high school teachers during the summer prior to the start of the school year.  The type of trip and the final plan have been collaborative decisions based upon student interest and input and the experience, interest and expertise of the high school teachers available to go on the trip.  The final (proposed) expedition plan is presented for approval to the School Board by the principal, students and teachers, usually at the Board’s September business meeting. 

That the fall expedition is a wilderness experience is intentional.  Our belief is that going into the wilderness reduces outside distractions to allow our students and teachers to focus on themselves, on their development as a team for the school year, and on the task - the curricular goals and goals of the expedition.  There is also something important about the connections made with the natural world that, even living in North Haven, are becoming lost in the miasma of modern technology, transportation and communication. 

A four-year sequence of fall expeditions was proposed a few years ago: hiking/backpacking; canoeing/kayaking/rafting; sailing; and biking.  While such a sequence was viewed as a good guideline for discussing each year’s trip, it was understood that other factors, such as costs, staff skills, and student numbers and needs, might dictate the best (most educational, appropriate, affordable, doable) trip in a given year. 

Over the years, the fall expedition has involved canoeing, white water rafting, sailing in Hurricane Island pulling boats, hiking, rock climbing, bushwhacking, kayaking, and biking.  Academic research topics have included the Plum Creek development of the Moosehead Lake region, a German prisoner of war camp on the Seboomok, the culture and economy of Washington County, the wood harvest clear cutting referendum, and the Passamaquoddy Land Claims case, among others. 

An important conclusion to each year’s fall expedition is the community presentation.  Students present both the details of the trip and their individual (and group) research projects to the community, recently at Waterman’s Community Center.  Students are assessed on their work on the basis of predetermined curriculum standards and NHCS 21st Century Learning Expectations.

The fall expedition has several important components that are central to our school’s mission and guiding motto:

Competence - The fall expedition focuses on and develops competencies in both academic curriculum areas and field/leadership skills.  Students have the opportunity to develop relevant skills and study firsthand a topic in depth, applying their learning to meaningful, real-life situations. 

Compassion - One of the great things about these trips is the shared social experience.  Because students bring to these trips their own sets of skills, strengths, likes, apprehensions, dislikes, and fears, they often learn to see each other in a whole new light.  Out in the field, away from the comfort and familiarity of home and island, they come to appreciate and depend on each other in ways that cannot be accomplished back in school.  Leadership, cooperation, empathy, and teamwork are revealed and developed from working in real-life conditions toward a common goal.  

Challenge - Again, the reality of challenge comes from living simply and energetically, and in some cases, pushing oneself beyond the comfortable limits of life in the modern world.  There is challenge for many in learning to live and work in a group situation that requires cooperation and collaboration, in living without creature comforts, and in discovering one’s capacity for leadership.

Community - A primary objective of the fall expedition is to build a sense of community among our students and staff that will carry through the school year.  We are a small, isolated school, the smallest in the state.  Interdependence, tolerance, empathy and mutual support are vital to the success of a school year, and even of our school itself.  Doing meaningful work for the benefit of the larger community of the town, state or nation, and presenting our fall expedition to our own community, promote the sense of responsibility that we must have to function effectively as members of community, and as citizens of the world.

NHCS Faculty & Staff
revised September 2011
Barney Hallowell, Principal

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