Normally students at Memorial Junior High School spend their days traveling from class to class in the three-story brick building on Fletcher Avenue. But for 300 seventh graders on Oct. 26, their classroom was nature.
Students spent the day at Valley Stream State Park, just a few hundred yards north of the school, participating in a variety of team-building activities. It was the school’s first Explorations program, designed to teach the students important life lessons.
The seventh-grade class is together for the first time at Memorial Junior High this year after coming over from about a dozen elementary schools in three different school districts. And the majority of them will be together for the next six years until they graduate from Central High. “This is a great opportunity for them to keep that friendship building process that’s taking place,” said Principal Anthony Mignella.
Explorations was organized by seventh-grade teachers Kim Cazzetto (English), Erin Primm (science), Andrea Trager (social studies), Christina Miceli (math) and MaryAnne Gustav (special education). Together they created a program that was meant to be both fun and educational for the students.
In Stack Attack, students had to stack 21 cups in a pyramid. Two teams competed against each other, with each of six students per team needing to complete the task. Key Punch tested math skills, as the students had to create a number line sequence. In Building Blind, one group had to use wooden blocks to create a structure, then another group had to recreate it using clues.
After each station, the students then had to write reflections. Mignella said that every activity ties into the new Common Core Learning Standards, which are being implemented this year across the country and require more challenging coursework.
Primm said that last week’s activities at the state park certainly got students thinking. They were able to have fun and learn at the same time, she said, perhaps without even realizing it.
At the end of the day, students were given the task of building a raft, using only wood they found on the ground and a few supplies provided by the teachers. “It allows them to be creative and it allows them to get their hands dirty,” Cazzetto said. “The raft building is the ultimate problem solving activity.”
Trager said that the students had to work together to build the raft, and for all the activities. Teamwork, she explained, is a skill they will need in the future.
Students were divided up into groups of 12. Teachers said the pairings were done randomly so it would give students a chance to meet a classmate they might not have known before. To celebrate the concept of teamwork, each group had to design a flag, and come up with a secret handshake and victory dance.
“We’re learning how to work together as a team with our classmates,” said seventh grader Jeannine Nwade. “If you don’t improve your team skills now, then how are you going to use them in the future?”
Joy Pressley said she learned how to listen to her peers. When trying to solve a problem as a team, she said, it’s important to hear everyone’s ideas. “When you listen to other people, you might learn,” she said, “and you can make yourself a better person.”
Mignella said the teachers began planning Explorations Day back in the summer. He said it was a lot of hard work but it paid off. Making the day even better, he said, the students were excited to be there and the weather was just right.