North Brunswick fifth-graders learn about conservation through virtual Stokes at Home trip

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Aarohi Banerjee, a John Adams Elementary student, pitched a tent.PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHRISTINE HOHWALD
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Erica Tuckman, a John Adams Elementary student, made a bird feeder.
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Liam Barr, a Judd Elementary student, takes a pictured based on a lesson in conservational photography.
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A bird feeder made from an orange and peanut butter.
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Andrew Alvarez, a Judd student, examines a tree.
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Melina, left, and Andrew Alvarez, Judd students.
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Avatars of Judd Elementary School staff provide pre-recorded messages to students as part of their virtual trip to Stokes this year.
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  1 / 7 
Aarohi Banerjee, a John Adams Elementary student, pitched a tent.PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHRISTINE HOHWALD
  2 / 7 
Erica Tuckman, a John Adams Elementary student, made a bird feeder.
  3 / 7 
Liam Barr, a Judd Elementary student, takes a pictured based on a lesson in conservational photography.
  4 / 7 
A bird feeder made from an orange and peanut butter.
  5 / 7 
Andrew Alvarez, a Judd student, examines a tree.
  6 / 7 
Melina, left, and Andrew Alvarez, Judd students.
  7 / 7 
Avatars of Judd Elementary School staff provide pre-recorded messages to students as part of their virtual trip to Stokes this year.

As the 2019-20 school year comes to the end, a highlight for fifth-graders is the planned trip to Stokes State Forest in Sussex County. Since the trip could not take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, educators in North Brunswick created a simulated trip for students to enjoy.

Stokes at Home was available to about 325 students at the John Adams, Judd and Parsons elementary schools. Livingston Park elementary students had already taken their trip in the fall.

“The idea was a little thought I had that turned into something much bigger with my colleagues. We started off meeting just as the Judd teachers trying to figure out how to do a virtual Stokes trip for our fifth-graders who are missing out.

“Realizing that the other schools in the district also missed their trip, we reached out and became a team of about 46 teachers and staff to what evolved into the Stokes at Home website,” said Jennifer Herrick, a technology teacher and technology ambassador at Judd.

Herrick is a former fifth and sixth grade teacher, so she had attended the Stokes trip for many years. She built the website using content fellow staff members contributed, including materials, videos, slides, etc.
She estimates it took about 90 hours to put together, plus the many hours more than 40 of her colleagues spent collating as well. The brainstorming began at the end of March.
“What was nice about the activities was that the students were able to do them from home with materials they have right in their homes, as well as explore nature right in North Brunswick,” Judd fifth grade teacher Christine Hohwald said.

Each school’s Stokes at Home webpage featured avatars of the teachers along with a pre-recorded voice message. Then, students could choose between classes and activities on each of two days.

“Our main goal was that we could present the topics at home with the ability to still participate in some way in their houses or in their yard. No one was left out due to personal living or economic circumstances,” Herrick said. “The lesson format and production was all the teachers’ and staff’s own creativity and they designed and filmed/produced with the help of family they are quarantined with, or alone.”

Day 1 included activities related to bird watching, conservation photography, colonial life, sheep and wool, water and fish ecology, invasive plants, white-tail deer, signs of spring, beaver ecology, turtles, tents and forts, making a bird feeder, how to prepare for a hiking trip, stretching, regrowing vegetables, shadow drawing, a nature walk and a scavenger hunt.

At night, campfire songs, a campfire story, observation of the sky and s’mores making were offered.

On Day 2, students were able to learn about colonial life, nature, survival tips, nature photography, fishing, orienteering, making a terrarium, foresting, composting, hiking, biodegradable flower pots, a nature walk, colonial games, leaf tracing, nature crafts, macrame crafts, a blindfolded obstacle course and a photography slideshow.

There were also cooking classes provided, such as making butter, a dirt cup dessert, ice cream, biscuits, cornbread and warm cinnamon apples.

“The students and parents we have heard from seem to be happy with the two days of activities and appreciated our efforts to try to provide something their children were missing out on.
“The Stokes trip is the pinnacle of North Brunswick students’ elementary careers. … It is my hope the students realize the value and beauty of nature and that although they did not go to Stokes State Forest, North Brunswick has a wealth of beauty and nature and wonder right in their backyards,” Herrick said.
Hohwald said the feedback was “amazing.”
“They really enjoyed participating in all the different activities. At the end of the second day, they had to fill out an exit slip sharing four things they visited, three things they learned, two things they would like to try and one thought about the trip.
“They could also show what they made or tried through an online flip grid. What was great about a virtual trip is that the students got to choose and participate in as many activities that they wanted to, whereas at Stokes, the activities are chosen for them.
“I think this provided a sense of normalcy for the kids by having them know we care about them, especially during a time where everything has changed for them.
“We wanted to give them a trip that has been a fifth grade tradition for a very long time in our district. We did not want them to miss out on it, even if it was different. In the end, it’s all about the kids,” she said.
Herrick added that the project was even more timely as Stokes’ School of Conservation is in danger.
“It’s kind of poignant right now that they are threatening to be closed as Montclair State University is turning the school over to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. They are in real danger of closing and we are actively participating in an effort to keep them open,” she said.
Herrick also noted how three different schools who do not necessarily know each other well were able to cooperate and collaborate on the giant project.
“This was all about the students. We had to find a way to give this trip to them,” she said.
The plan, currently, is to continue the trips to Stokes State Forest during the next school year.
Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.