Mammoth Cave, Here We Come!

By Reed Gabhart, Head of the Goshen Campus7thGradeMammoth_2

Mammoth Cave National Park received a “double dose” of St Francis this week! First, our 7th graders took their annual three-day camping/caving/hiking expedition from Monday through Wednesday, and then our 5th grade swapped buses with them for their first-ever class journey to Mammoth Cave for Wednesday through Thursday. (Look for more on the 7th grade trip soon.)  

I went along on the 5th grade trip to be a part of this inaugural outing and see how the 5th graders would respond to tent camping for one night. (Before this year, our 5th grade trip has been an overnight at Natural Bridge State Park, staying in lodge rooms.) I can honestly say there were highs and lows involved – and that is exactly one of the reasons we take our students on outdoor education trips. Mammoth Cave was spectacular, and many of our students had never been in a cave before. I was impressed at how many of the guide’s questions our students could answer (go, Science Department!). However, as we were on sold-out tours, we had to continually remind them to be respectful of the other people (mostly adults) who were with us.  In terms of camping, cooking, cleaning, and socializing, I would give them mixed marks. The highlight occurred around the campfire after dinner. We were very honest with them about their successes and their challenges. We told them where they fared well, and where exactly they need to improve as a class. This was the most attentive they were during the trip. Many kids spoke up and agreed with us and stated their feelings in this “safe” environment. We took a vote on whether they had “earned” s’mores afterwards and they voted “no.” Due to their ability to assess themselves honestly, we exercised our  “veto power”  and made s’mores anyway. (As one little darling said, “I don’t think we deserve them, but I really want one.”). From the mouths of babes.

5thGradeTrip_3Likewise, at Bernheim Forest on the way back Thursday, we played a Peace Education game (thank you, Julie Marks) nicely led by Sarah Dewberry. It involved the kids working in teams of four to traverse “alien slime” with their only tool being teamwork – and the creative use of bandanas. It was interesting the kids assumed it was a competition and race, even though that wasn’t stated. It was simply about working together to figure out a solution. Some did. Some didn’t. We talked about that at the end, and again, they listened well to the deeper meanings of the activity.

I share this partly so you’ll know some of the things we do on these trips, and to point out the social-emotional growth/class bonding we hope to impart. It is fascinating to watch a particular group of students grow and evolve over four years in Middle School, and these trips play a key role in that process. Thanks to Patrick Donovan for leading both trips this week and to the other adults who were willing to work 24/7 for several days with our kids: Jason Chlopek, Michael Mahoney, Angela Ponzio, Heather Varda, Sarah Dewberry and Christine Brinkmann (who went on both!).