This Guest Post by Lynn Talbott, Fifth grade teacher, Hendley Elementary School, Washington DC, is written about her class’ experience during the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center’s 3 day two night Meaningful Watershed Education Experience sponsored by the District Department of the Environment
Within an hour of arriving at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, my nineteen students and I were seated in the common room, awaiting lunch. Several of my kids spied a stink bug under the bench and immediately screeched! My first thought? This is going to be a long three days. If my inner-city fifth graders were going to screech and holler over every critter they see…well…maybe we aren’t ready for this learning opportunity, I thought.
Fast forward to our last morning on the farm. We were split into two groups and were led through interactions with the farm animals. We fed the pigs and lambs and milked the dairy cow, Annie. One of our groups was mid-milking when Annie, how do I write it politely, needed to relieve herself. The students were unfazed. No screeches, no yelling, nothing. They kept on milking.
What happened in those three days that turned my stink bug squealers into professional cow poop handlers? Risks. Lots of risks. Risk taking is a commonly used term in my classroom community at Hendley Elementary School in southeast Washington DC. We are always taking risks by volunteering answers, sweating it out with a difficult math problem, helping another learning partner or asking for said help, taking social risks, and so on.
At Hard Bargain, my learning partners met challenges like passing each member of the group through a spider web without triggering a bell that was affixed to the top, sorting leftovers into trash, recyclables, and pig food, as well as exercising their knowledge about food webs, animal adaptations, and watersheds. They had to sleep in a bunk room with their peers and teachers. Some slept away from home for the first time. Many spent FAR more time outdoors than they are accustomed to spending. Bird watching, woods walking, and hill rolling are not on their dance cards in southeast DC. These are risks, careful and rewarding ones, but risks nonetheless.
Successfully taking risks, having open minds, and stepping outside their collective comfort zone turned my stink bug squealers into cow poop professionals. They learned that they could acquire content knowledge while enjoying new surroundings. They let down their pre-middleschool cool personas to trust their learning partners and leaders. I will add here that while our classroom community is relatively peaceful, arguments happen and tempers flare from time to time.
Disagreements seldom occurred while during our stay at Hard Bargain Farm; kids who do not typically interact did
so with ease. The interactive model set by our team leaders, the time spent outside, and approaching science content and team building in new ways brought out the very best in my learning partners.
In closing, I would highly recommend a stay at Hard Bargain Environmental Farm Center to any and all of my fellow DCPS educators. The time and effort spent pay off in spades. You and your students will be changed and more knowledgeable. I can hardly wait to be back on the farm with a new group of learning partners in 2015. I will be prepared for the stink bug squealing…and the valuable learning experiences.