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Diving In: Middle School Outdoor Education

Susan Johnson

Tomorrow, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders embark on their respective annual outdoor education trips. The sixth graders will travel to Catalina Island, where they will snorkel (including a night dive), kayak, hike, and learn about marine life. The seventh graders will travel to Joshua Tree National Park and will spend their time rock climbing, scrambling, and camping in the desert. Eighth grade students will head to the Lower Colorado River, where they start their adventure near Blythe, California. Over four days, they will paddle down the river for approximately 40 miles, setting up camp each night, and ending near Yuma, Arizona.

Preparing for these trips is no small feat. Hours are spent on the logistics, from planning itineraries to coordinating transportation to answering parent and student questions. Teachers suspend lesson plans and sacrifice their own personal free time to spend four days and three-nights with a group of approximately 50 middle schoolers. Parents complete many forms, help their children pack all the required gear, and cancel after school activities. 

What are the benefits of Outdoor Education?

The benefits of outdoor education are numerous and the lessons gained cannot be found within the four walls of the classroom. The program allows students the opportunity to:
  • Adapt to a completely new, often unfamiliar environment, giving them an awareness—and hopefully an appreciation—of the natural world.
  • Face challenges, both physically and mentally, expanding their comfort zones and gaining confidence in themselves and their abilities.
  • Bond with classmates and teachers during activities and free time, strengthening relationships and community.
  • Provide a technology-free time for students, allowing them to be present with each other.
  • Build independence away from parents and an appreciation for home.
Most importantly, the trips provide some of the most lasting memories for Harbor Day School students; alumni often cite outdoor education trips as some of their favorite experiences while at Harbor Day. 

In the spring, the fifth graders will experience their first outdoor trip as they travel to Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains and experience three days and two nights of physical science and outdoor fun at Astrocamp.

To the sixth through eighth grade parents: thank you for trusting us with the care of your children. We do not take this lightly and we will be in touch with you should the need arise. This is also a time for parents to adjust to not having their middle school student at home for a few days. Undoubtedly, their absence will highlight the fact that time continues to march on and that your child is growing up, soon to be in high school. While this is a bit overwhelming, it is the natural course and we want to help facilitate their growth. Outdoor Education continues to be a rite of passage for our students and helps them gain the skills they need for the next stage of their development. 

About the Author:
Mrs. Johnson is the Director of Middle School. Her administrative role includes overseeing the fifth through eighth grade classrooms and curriculum and coordinating high school placements. Prior to her administrative position, Mrs. Johnson served as the Middle School Language Arts Department Chair and taught Middle School English and literature for four years. She also taught world history and geography for five years. Mrs. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University, a master’s degree in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a juris doctor from Chapman University School of Law.


Harbor Day School

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Harbor Day School is a co-educational private independent K-8 school established in 1952.