The Phoenix School’s 6th-8th graders recently got back from the Florida Everglades and have spent the last two weeks going over their research and discussing what they had learned on the journey. Since the Kindergarten through fifth graders had also completed a similar imaginary journey, the two groups were able to share notes and discuss their findings.
There was much debate about who really had the better time.
There is no debate however that the actual trip to the Everglades itself was an exciting adventure for all involved, especially for two students James (7th grade) and Emma (6th grade). Throughout the week the students rode bikes through Shark Valley, canoed through the mangroves, explored wild Anhinga trails, navigated into Cypress domes on a slough slog, and kicked back at the Hoosville Hostel in Homestead.
“The first night we were there, even before we went to the hostel, we stopped at Anhinga Trail,” James explained. “It’s this really beautiful space with a boardwalk where you can see Anhingas. Each student had a chance to walk to the ends of the boardwalk by themselves, which was really creepy because you could hear the little slaps of the tails of fishes on the water as you moved.
“But every so often you would hear a much larger slap on the water, and those were the alligators,” he added.
The next day, the students met up with Christopher Kavanaugh, a marine biologist for the Everglades ecosystem who talked to the kids about the salinity of Florida Bay and the impact of boat passage through the delicate environment.
Another exciting part of that week was a 2.5-mile kayak trip in Flamingo right next to Florida Bay.
“We didn’t see much on the way up there,” James remembered, “we were just kayaking. Then on the way back, the incredible things started to happen.
“A manatee came up to our kayak and bumped it before swimming past underneath us. If it had been something else it would have been frightening, but manatees are so friendly and curious.”
The last adventure of the trip was a 15-mile bike loop through Shark Valley where students could see more flora and fauna both up close and from above at the observation tower halfway through the ride,
Emma (6th grade) found the bike trip to be especially interesting because this was her first time doing something like this.
“On the bike trip, I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I didn’t fall one time. Now I know what people mean when they say ‘It’s as easy as riding a bike,’” she said.
During the trip, the students also had to be wary about accidentally running over the local wildlife.
“At one point there was a large alligator just lying in the trail,” Emma recalled. “We just went around it. Fortunately, the alligator didn’t mind us at all, because if it did I don’t think I could’ve gotten my bike up to more 15 miles per hour which is how fast an alligator can run.”
“Here pedestrians get the right of way, there, the alligators get the right of way,” James explained.
The classroom was full of the hustle and bustle of children shuffling quickly through a makeshift security line. “Take off your shoes and your belt and put all of your personal belongings in the bin to go through the scanner,” one fifth grade student said to a third grader in line.
“Don’t forget to empty out all of your pockets,” he added as an afterthought. This past week, the students at the Phoenix School took off to the Everglades, and while the 6-8th graders took the actual physical trip to Florida, the Kindergarten through 5th graders created an imaginary journey where they would re-create every aspect of what it would be like to take such a trip. While the older kids were off exploring the mangroves of Southeastern Florida, the fifth graders at the Phoenix School were the ones left in charge.
It was up to them to design a trip that would get their fellow classmates (and flight passengers) to their final destination safely and securely. In doing so they were able to make use of the social, emotional, and leadership skills they’ve gained over the course of the year and incorporate it into a week of imaginary travel. While they were handling all the main details like flight paths and deciding which was the best route to take through the mangroves, the younger kids engaged with their environment by experiencing the imagined journey, taking notes on their findings, and doing research projects to prepare for the trip.
Throughout this process, they also engaged with fundamental learning techniques like writing, working with numbers, and logic, but in a way that allowed them to use their own personal learning style in real-life scenarios. Once all the students passed through security and took their seats aboard the plane of the imagination, the fifth-grade captains made announcements over a pretend loudspeaker. The screen in front of them played a Google Earth Flight Simulator depicting the view of the runway.
“Welcome aboard flight 406 to Fort Lauderdale,” the first captain said.
“Please buckle your seatbelts for takeoff and make sure that all of your personal belongings are in an overhead bin or tucked under the seat in front of you,” the second captain said.
The plane started to take off in a wobbly fashion, causing the passengers to giggle uncontrollably.
“Please don’t worry, we are professionals at this,” the third captain explained with a laugh as the simulated plane rose higher into the air. “Let’s do a barrel roll!” Someone yelled from the back.
During the week, in addition to the imaginary travel, the students also pursued their own research projects about the flora and fauna of the area, including a creative writing piece where the students told a story from the perspective of an animal in the Everglades. The teachers also incorporated the thematic subject into their foundational studies, asking important mathematical questions like “How many Anhingas can an alligator eat in a day?” and “If an Alligator eats 3 Anhingas a day, how many Anhingas would they eat in a week?”
Although these questions may not be great for the development of the Anhingas, they are incredible for the development of the students, and of the course of the week of imaginary travel, they will have had an experience and stories to swap with the 6-8th graders returning from the real alligator alley with tales of their own. Stay tuned for next post when we share stories and photos of the older kids’ adventure to the Everglades.
Imagining and Examining the Everglades at the Phoenix School
by Joey Phoenix
Spring is finally here and the students at The Phoenix School are gearing up for their annual adventure. This year, they’re trekking down to the Florida Everglades.
Trips like these have been part of the school’s curriculum for years now as a way to create an engaging project that’s adaptable across age, ability, and learning style. This year’s trip focus is on the ecology, including both flora and fauna, as well as the issues of social and environmental change affecting southeast Florida.
These young students are such an incredible voice for change, and their trips to these places equip them with knowledge and experiences they can bring back with them to reshape their world.
So for the past few weeks, all of the students at the school have been researching and prepping for their journey. The 6th-8th graders will actually be traveling to the southern tip of Florida where they will spend several days exploring Everglades National Park, and the Kindergarten through 5th graders will be taking part in an imaginary trip which will take place in the school also during that time.
The older kids will be basing their operations at a youth hostel just outside Everglades, and from there they’ll be able to make day trips to explore different aspects of the National Park. One of the highlights of the trip is a 15 mile bike ride though Shark Valley where they’ll get to see lots of things, including tiny alligators who frequently cross the path in search of new watering holes.
While the older kids are encountering alligators in the wild, the younger kids will stage an Everglades trip of their own, imagining everything from going through airport security, making plane tickets, flying a plane (and often “crashing” it in Florida to the accompaniment of Google Earth on the projector. They also will transform their benches into imaginary kayaks, use long poles and pool noodles to make pretend oars, and go on a make-believe kayaking trip through the Mangroves.
To prepare, the students have been creating research guides, where they create visual aids to help them understand what they’ll be seeing on the trip, take notes to explain the visual guides and keep track of any new vocabulary they learn along the way.
Each of the research guide’s requirements is modified to fit the student’s learning styles and level. More advanced students will create elaborate visual aids and will work on shortening their notes and writing in their own voice, while younger students will learn about composition and observation.
This way, everyone can get those kinds of lessons doing their own research. It’s also important to recognize that one kid’s work doesn’t necessarily need to look like another kid’s work for it to be well done, they’re going to do it at their own level and think about the kind of things that interest them. For example, some students may focus on the chemistry aspect of the research while others will want to look into flowering plants or regional wildlife.
If each student has their own learning style, way of processing, and special talents and abilities, they should be allowed to do the kind of work that allows them to develop those skills on their own merits, and projects like these are just one more thing the Phoenix School does to make that possible.
About the Phoenix School:
Phoenix is an experience-driven learning community that gives kids the tools, thoughts, and experiences that will help them become the best versions of themselves and fosters their development as contributors to society. At Phoenix, we emphasize process over product, implementing project-based learning through our curriculum to help students think critically, explore deeply, challenge themselves, contribute positively to their world, and learn more from their failures and celebrate their successes. Our core values are creativity, perseverance, citizenship, and empathy.
Each year Essex National Heritage Area opens its “doors” to our county, over two weekends, to us all, for Trails & Sails. At the heart of the Phoenix philosophy, “Learning in an Adventure” and “Anywhere Can be a Classroom”, so…we ask that you all engage in learning together and participate in a Family Extended Learning Assignment.
Enjoy a variety of guided walks, paddles, historical tours and other adventures for all ages, skill levels and interests, that will connect you to the spectacular places, history, and heritage that define the Essex National Heritage Area—the 34 cities and towns of Boston ’s legendary North Shore. It’s all FREE and it’s all located within the 34 cities and towns of Essex County.
Please plan to visit one of the several locations listed on the Trails and Sails website either this weekend OR next and complete a journal entry together. A journal entry can be submitted as an email and should include drawings, words, and a creatively worded reflection from each family member and send to Leslie, this is an awesome way to participate in a typical Phoenix School exercise!
The new school year welcomes two new teachers and promotes a new Head for the 2018-2019 school year.
The Phoenix School in Salem – known for its challenging academic curriculum, designed as an experience-driven learning community that gives kids the tools, thoughts, and experiences that will help them become the best versions of themselves and fosters their development as contributors to society – welcomes two teachers and promotes a new school Head for the 2018-2019 school year.
Joining the team are Mike Smith and Mistral Dodson, while Leslie Levesque becomes the new Head of School. The schools founders Betsye Sargent and Barbara McFall retire and join the school’s Board. Levesque has been with The Phoenix School since 1995 and is thrilled to continue to further the mission with the help from Dodson and Smith.
Sargent and McFall are excited to be handing over the baton, the claim, “After 37 years of growing The Phoenix School, we cannot think of anyone more qualified than Leslie Levesque to carry on our mission. May she blend her vision with ours. It’s comforting to know that under Leslie’s watch there is a commitment to stay the course as she, Mike, and Mistral develop new and exciting curriculum and experiences for our future Phoenix students.
Since opening in 1981, The Phoenix School makes use of community resources and remains a vibrant part of downtown Salem. The students can often be seen walking around downtown using the city as their classroom by visiting the Salem Common, the YMCA, the Peabody Essex Museum and other downtown institutions. Founded by Betsye Sargent and Barbara McFall, the school’s goal has always been to help build students who think globally while acting locally.
Excited Phoenix School 6th – 8th graders and teachers heading to Los Angeles, for a week of marine studies at Catalina Island Marine Institute begin their day early at Boston’s Logan Airport. As weary as we are when we reach San Pedro, we find a second wind as we board the brigantine, Exy Johnson to spend the night until we can catch the ferry to Catalina Island in the morning. Sleep is all we want….or so we think.
We do much more than sleep. Exy Johnson’s crew invites us to stow our gear below in bunks, then offers us opportunities to climb aloft on the Irving Johnson, berthed at the same dock. Some of us scramble out on the bowsprit, sitting astride the spar or lounging in the net below. Diving cormorants gulping fish entertain the net-perchers who happily wave to boats passing by. We watch others step out onto the shrouds to climb the ratlines to the top-mast platform 50 feet above the deck. They place their feet and hands carefully as they ascend, clipping in to master the last climb out and over the edge of the platform.
Raya and Devon reflect on their climbs.
Raya: “I can’t do this!” My mind tells me, “You won’t be able to make it to the top!” My heart has other plans, though. Using the last of my dwindling strength, I use my displeased muscles to pull myself onto the deck. What I see below me is worth the climb.”
Devon: I grapple up tarred line, hooking my talons onto thin ratlines. I am like an eagle in his nest. I am loving my time, savouring every second until I call, “Laying low,” and it is time to descend,
With legs hanging over the platform’s edge, our top-men gaze out to sea, over alien-like cranes waiting to load and unload thousands of piled containers, and out to the west, all the way to Catalina Island in the distant haze.
Smiling and waving at each other, some from below, some from above, we let the peacefulness of the sun and sea wash over us and soothe our tiredness.
Soon we “lay low” (descend from above) and pitch in to cook a delicious dinner in our ship’s galley. There is no better meal than one shared on the deck of a 2 masted sailing vessel with the sun setting in the distance, painting the sky a brilliant orange.
After dinner we gather at the helm to share our writing with the crew and then Ken brings seine twine to our bunk area ready to teach us how to make a monkey fist knot to hang around our necks. One by one, Phoenix kids succumb to the long day and its adventures, and turn into their berths to dream of our first day “at sea.”