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Catalina: A sustainable lesson
Posted 11/06/2015 01:26PM

It is one thing to read about the wonders of nature, it is quite another to actually experience them. Eighty-six Parish Episcopal School 7th graders got a hands-on, above ground and underwater experience of a lifetime during a trip to Catalina Island, off the coast of California. (Catalina Video)

Each year, 7th graders have the opportunity to study marine life and unique ecosystems around the island with the Catalina Environmental Leadership Program. The October trip marked the 14th year for Parish students to travel to Catalina.

“Each student left for California cloaked in a sense of comfort, but during the week they pushed themselves beyond their comfort levels,” said Becky Crawford, Director of Experiential Education.

“Actually doing the tasks - not just talking about them - helped our students move forward. It was the “doing” that made them thrive,” she added.

During the weeklong stay, students and 12 faculty/staff chaperones investigated ecosystems in living classrooms. They also enjoyed day and night snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, gardening and exploring tide pools. Woven into each lesson were the following principles for a sustainable system: everything runs on energy, there is no waste in nature, biodiversity is good and everything is connected.

“This group of students got themselves up early each morning just to see the sunrise. They got the message:  humans need to connect with nature,” noted Crawford.

ParishLeads tenets of Wisdom, Honor and Service were practiced 24/7 as students interacted with each other, counselors and the environment.

“The kids showed maturity in thinking about the problems that face us as a global society,” said Courtney Joyner, Parish Episcopal Digital Web/Content Manager and staff chaperone.

“They also showed great teamwork and encouragement during challenging activities that really pushed their limits,” he added.

The Catalina group was put to the test during a service project on the trip. They picked up shovels and dug a pit in the garden to house a huge geodesic dome. Their efforts laid the groundwork for the dome to eventually become a nursery for new growth and species.

“That was hard. I’ve never done anything like that before,” said Jacob Weinger, Class of ’21.

In addition, the students received sustainable living tips such as composting and were asked to take another look at how to conserve water and energy.

“Now I realize how many resources it takes to make something small. For example, we learned it takes hundreds of gallons of water to make a bar of chocolate,” said Weinger.

When not digging in the dirt and working in the classroom, students got a chance to face their fears on the ropes course, rock climbing wall and zip line. A trip to the Eagles Nest proved to be difficult for even the most fearless. Kids climbed 30 feet in the air, stood at the top of a skinny wooden pole and then jumped off. The teens also experienced some heart thumping moments after coming face-to-face with sea life while snorkeling.

“We saw this really cool stingray and we were only a few feet above it. It was really kind of scary and really cool at the same time because I didn’t think I would ever get to see one in real life,” said Jenny Mitchell, Class of ’21.

“I got to touch a horn shark during the night snorkel. It was really neat because I didn’t know a shark could be that soft,” explained Weinger.

“It didn’t bite me or anything!”

Downtime for the students included a Halloween celebration and the talent competition Catalina Idol. (The girls’ cabin “Sloop” won the contest.)

Overall, the students took advantage of the many opportunities available on the trip and gained some valuable lessons they could bring back home.

“I’m going to remember that nature can be delicate; that we should be careful with it and treat it with respect,” said Mitchell.

“Most of all, I’m going to remember how much fun I had.”

Parish students’ readiness for the Catalina Trip now begins in the 6th grade as they read the Island of the Blue Dolphin in their humanities class and create 3D images of islands in science class. The curriculum tie continues in 7th grade with lessons in life science, humanities and service learning, a community service focus on sustainability.

Weinger recommends the trip to 6th graders who will get a chance to sign up next school year. The reason is pretty simple:

“It was REALLY cool.”

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