BERLIN– As they prepared for the annual eighth-grade class trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School, students at Worcester Prep were interested but not necessarily excited. They figured lessons would simply be outside for a change.
“The teachers talked about three-hour classes we’d be doing,” eighth-grader CC Lizas said. “They don’t tell you the classes are zip lining and touching fish.”
Two days after their return from Echo Hill students were still raving about the unique outdoor educational experience. The eighth-graders spent three days and two nights at the Worton, Md., facility, doing everything from hiking to boating. Worcester Preparatory School has offered an eighth grade class trip to Echo Hill since the 1970s.
“We have found that the Echo Hill experience, through activities designed to heighten students’ awareness and appreciation of our fragile environment, combined with interactions to create bonding and trust with others, has a profound impact upon our students,” Headmaster Barry Tull said.
Echo Hill provides students with a chance to experience nature firsthand — camping in tents with their classmates — and promotes positive interactions among them with teambuilding activities.
Lizas says the teambuilding ended up being her favorite part of the whole experience. Classmate Hannah Perdue agreed that she got to know several students better.
“You connect with people you wouldn’t normally connect with,” she said.
Along with the teambuilding games, students went boating on the Chesapeake Bay, participated in night hikes and went zip lining. The latter proved to be the highlight of the trip for many students. They climbed a 40-foot tree to zip down a line through the forest.
“I thought it was going to be scary but it wasn’t that bad,” eighth-grader Adison Browne said. “It was fun.”
Classmate Alex Koppenhaver took the activity a step farther — he did it blindfolded.
“You didn’t have to but I really wanted to,” he said.
Koppenhaver covered his eyes with a strip of cloth as soon as he reached the foot of the tree housing the platform. He used his hands to feel for the small metal footholds placed sparingly up the tree’s length and moved slowly up until he reached the tiny wooden platform.
Aside from an initial moment of queasiness he loved every minute of it.
“You tell yourself you’re not going to get scared but when you’re actually there you get a little nervous,” he said.
The zip line was the best part of Echo Hill for many students, who lamented that it wasn’t a daily activity. Nevertheless they found themselves enjoying the overall outdoor experience, from the mosquito nets surrounding their bunks to the communal dining. The Echo Hill lesson on reducing waste at meal times was one students learned quickly. After each meal, the scraps produced by each table—the SLOP (Stuff Left On Plate) —were weighed.
“You didn’t want to be the one with all the food,” Koppenhaver said. “It was kind of fun.”
And while they might have groused about how dark it was or getting tangled in their mosquito netting, students say they’ll certainly be recommending the trip to their younger schoolmates.
“Before going into high school, if you’re going to make new friends this is the time to do it,” Perdue said.