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.
At Phoenix we always start Thanksgiving week by cooking, in multi age teams of students ranging from K-8th grade. These connections allow students to learn real life and valuable lessons from the variety of teachable moments. The Thanksgiving holiday reminds us of the importance of connection – not just with friends and family, but within our school. Phoenix is a family of students, alums, teachers, and friends. Our annual Thanksgiving Feast at school allows us to be able to celebrate together as one large family, connecting current students, with past generations of students.
Our community works together, where teams have to learn collaboration, and older team leaders learn to guide their younger partners through different aspects of cooking, from cutting and peeling apples and potatoes to different measuring terms, like rounded teaspoons versus flat teaspoons. Did you know cooking involves a variety of sciences, math, discovery, taste, textures, team building, real life learning and so much more? Students learn fractions in action, and how they apply to real life situations. During cranberry sauce making, students actively observe the physical changes of cranberries while they are being heated and cooked, and from sour berries to sweet sauce! Even the simple act of cooking can bring feelings from joy to frustration, to exploding taste buds and smells!
Older students learn to lead, guide and share their knowledge, while engaging the younger grades, encouraging them to participate and teaching them how to do certain jobs safely. Younger students are able to fully participate from measuring, to cutting to cooking the food. Students have to learn how to read recipes accurately and follow directions, otherwise their creations might just not succeed! These are real life skills, at all grade levels, and they teach students patience, team building, collaboration, guiding, teaching, and knowing when to lead and when to allow others the spotlight and so much more. All of these skills will transfer into situations students will find themselves in throughout their whole life, from highschool, to college and to their careers.
The students spend two days preparing and cooking a Thanksgiving Feast for our school community. From cooking and cleaning to decorations and dessert all grades are actively involved with creating their feast. On our final day we redesign the school to create one long table for the students, a smaller table for our Alumni visitors and a teachers table. Students are able to learn the dining etiquette of a formal meal, but in a very kid friendly way! By gathering around the table, students are able to share stories of their family traditions and enjoy the feast that they were a part of creating.
This also opens the opportunity for our community to reflect on the things we are grateful for, to find gratitude and begin to think about setting new goals for following year. And while it is important to recognize the gift of giving to the community, it is also the time to show respect and indifference to each other. Students are given the opportunity to reflect, in a group sharing moment students comment on what they are thankful for. Kindergarteners are often thankful for something in their family, while the older students often reflect on life events or global events that are making them think on a deeper level. Being thankful for parents is a common theme, from being given the opportunity to go to a school they value to pushing them to grow outside their box, to providing them with a safe home.
Students keep our local shelter, Lifebridge, in mind and make extra food to donate for their Thanksgiving Feast the following day. Students here are used to giving, helping, volunteering and being thoughtful. From a young age students learn to be mindful and considerate of their peers, their community and to students around the globe. As active members of the EarlyAct Club of the Salem Rotary Club our K-8 students discuss, vote and implement community actions that involve volunteering or donations. The learn early that giving comes in many forms—time, energy, money, goods and services, and more. But all have something in common at their core: they are gifts offered without expectation or implication of repayment, only the desire to create a better future.
Have a safe and grateful long weekend!
The Week of Thanksgiving