Fred Yerzy and Rachel Torres took a little time away from the classroom in mid-April. The break, however, was not the traditional Spring Break enjoyed districtwide. This break wasn’t exactly away from the classroom, either. The classroom became the outdoors and the ‘break’ came in the way of Foothill Horizons Sixth Grade outdoor education camp.
Yerzy and Torres took a step away from their Life Science and History classes at Oakdale Junior High, in a teacher swap with Sierra View sixth grade teachers Amanda Hensley and Melissa Meyer. Each teacher traveled with 32 students to the Sonora Foothill Horizons location for four memorable days exploring and learning in the outdoors.
This marked a second swap year for Yerzy, who encouraged Torres to do it as well.
“I loved it,” the history teacher said. “There was a teacher in my class that could carry out the lesson plan. So there was no interruption to learning. It just makes the community tighter.”
Both educators noted that several of their junior high students were excited by the idea of Hensley and Meyer coming to the campus, as some had them as teachers in the past at the elementary level. On the flip side, the swap brings value, as it familiarizes the sixth graders with future Junior High educators.
“There was a lot of counting,” Yerzy stated of keeping track of his 32 students, “because you want to start with the same number of kids you originally started with.”
“That’s the good thing,” Torres added. “I made all these bonds with these kids that will be here next year.”
“It’s a totally different relationship,” Yerzy said of the Outdoor Education experience versus the traditional classroom. “We talk in depth about science, we take it to the next level.”
The science teacher also noted the camp-like setting and the challenges it brings for students who are away from home and all they find familiar. He said the students became supportive of one another, creating a bond, which fostered growth.
“The valuable part is that they’re able to be kind human beings to one another,” Yerzy said, mentioning the emphasis on relationships, manners and helping one another.
“They really seem to be getting more out of it than in the classroom,” he continued. “They learn to work with each other in a positive environment.”
Now in her 17th year as a teacher, Torres echoed Yerzy’s thoughts as she reflected on how the students learned during their four day stay.
“These trips are so valuable because you learn so much outside the four walls of the classroom,” she said. “It’s hands on learning. To go out and have them interact. That’s the stuff we believe in as teachers. If the kids are participant in their learning, that’s going to stay with them forever.”
Case in point, in addition to the teachers, there are counselors and Naturalists at Foothill Horizons. The Naturalists collaborate with the teachers in the learning process. One of the Naturalists was once a student of Yerzy’s.
Yerzy stated the former student shared with the classes, outdoor lessons he had learned while a Yerzy student that he now shared with groups like themselves.
“It was really cool,” the science teacher said. “He told them, you may never come back to this place again, but these kids … they got it. It’s a really cool experience, so they made the most of it.”