What better way to earn summer school credits than by exploring the outdoors? That’s what happened last month when Wilderness Inquiry helped lead three outdoor programs that allowed Minneapolis Public School summer school students to earn credits that they otherwise would have had to earn in a classroom. Students from ages 14 to 17 went on one of three outdoor trips that made for a more adventurous summer school. It’s the third year in a row Wilderness Inquiry has led all of the trips.
One group of students traveled up to Voyageurs National Park on a 4-day adventure. Another group of students went on a 4-day English and Language Arts Session around Minneapolis. And a third group went on a 4-day Science Session around the Twin Cities. “For many of these students, the difference is night and day,” said Minneapolis Public School teacher Erik Miller, who has been the lead teacher in the program for three years. “Immersing them in an outdoor experience that relates to their learning opens up thoughts and discussions that you just can’t draw out in a typical classroom environment. Active participation and relevant activities make for a much more engaging day!”
The first trip saw ten students and two teachers head up with Wilderness Inquiry guides to Voyageurs National Park. The students had lessons about Voyageurs and the fur trade. They were taught that Voyageurs National Park is home to 240 species of birds, 10 species of reptiles, 53 species of fish, and 42 species of mammal. Then the students went on a nature hike and identified plants. They also learned about a proposed copper mine in northern Minnesota and role-played as interest groups taking sides about the development of the mine. At the end of the trip they got a checklist and marked off everything they learned, from outdoor skills to species identification. The students raved about gaining summer school credits by camping. “I loved a comment made by a student—only half-joking—that they wanted to fail a class again just to have another camping opportunity!” said Miller.
A second group of 14 students earned their English and Language Arts credit by going on a series of trips around Minneapolis. The students learned the creation stories of the Ottawa and Dakota peoples and discussed how some cultures explained nature through stories. The next day the students hiked to Minnehaha Falls and wrote an essay about the experience. On the final day they visited Mill City Ruins Park and read a Star Tribune article about different plans for the river at St. Anthony Falls. There is a debate underway about whether the river at there should be left as is, turned into a more natural state by removing the lock and dams, or built into a world class national park. “Students led a fantastic discussion on the future of the downtown Minneapolis’ Mississippi River and the various interest groups and stakeholders involved in making the decision,” said Miller. “What better place to have this discussion than from the Stone Arch Bridge, where students can view the landscape and visualize some of the proposed ideas.”
For the final summer school session, 15 students traveled around the Twin Cities to earn a science credit. On the first day they visited Fort Snelling State Park and paddled a course with Wilderness Inquiry. Then they calculated the calories they burned during their activity. One of the highlights of the trip occurred when they visited Minnehaha Creek and learned how water moves from the streets of the city to the river through storm drains. They then stenciled a warning sign next to a storm drain. On the final day they had a physics lesson in which they learned the optimal conditions for skipping stones off the water. On all of the activities, Wilderness Inquiry outdoor leaders helped the students navigate the outdoors and learn. “I’ve worked with WI for years now, and it’s always been nice to count on the energy of the staff, their flexibility, and their work planning and preparing these experiences,“ said Miller.