Charter students start year way off campus

Ryan Laslovich grinds wheat berries by hand to make bread flour. — Photo courtesy of Paul Karasik

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School is beginning the school year with a unique effort to bring students together. They are going camping.

Transitions are not always easy, and starting a new school year can be difficult for some youngsters. The Charter School strategy is to get seventh and eighth grade students out of the classroom and into the great outdoors.

“Camping is a great way to help solidify a group. We have lots of new students this year, and this is a positive way to make them feel part of the group,” math teacher Deborah Cutrer says.

Jonah Maidoff, a social studies teacher, leads the expedition. He is a seasoned camper who has had plenty of experience taking student groups into the wild. Later in the year he plans a wilderness experience in the Maine woods for more adventurous students who choose to go.

“The camping trip we have at the beginning of the year is more about having fun, but in addition to bringing the group together, it has a curricular component,” Mr. Maidoff says.

“From Farm to Factory” is the first social studies unit of the year for these students. The camping trip lays the framework for understanding the transition of America from an agrarian to an industrial society. In addition to camping, the students will visit Sturbridge Village and the Jenney Grist Mill in Plymouth.

All of the meals consumed on the camping trip will be prepared by the students, from a menu based on foods available to late 19th-century Americans. Canned beans will not be served. Students will learn to prepare dried legumes. Before leaving on their trip, students will grind grain into flour to bake their own rustic bread.

“This is more than just a camping trip,” Mr. Maidoff explains. “This is a way to accomplish several goals — to earnestly connect to the past, to engage in community building through storytelling, to play together, and to link personal experience to academic understanding. It is what Charter School does best, a combination of experiential and academic understanding.”

Paul Karasik is development director at the Charter School.