TOWNSEND -- It wasn't your normal field trip.
For three days at the end of May, 104 sixth-graders and 17 chaperones from Hawthorne Brook Middle School hiked through the White Mountains in New Hampshire as part of an educational trip on geology and forest ecology through a program called "A Mountain Classroom."
The students hunted for amphibians, learned about adaptations by being led around blindfolded and worked to eliminate food waste during their meals.
"Every student was given the opportunity to lead the group at some point during the trip," said Hawthorne Brook Vice Principal Sandi Shepard-Gay. "They also learned about the importance of being a good steward of our environment."
The students stayed in indoor camps at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, N.H. and the Highland Center in Crawford Notch, N.H. They ate meals prepared by the camp staff, and were taught by instructors from A Mountain Classroom. All A Mountain Classroom instructors college graduates who are trained in both the curriculum and in first aid.
Sixth-grade science teacher Patric Hanno, who chaperoned the field trip, said the activities students participated in on the trip related to what they had learned in class all semester.
"The instruction at the classroom could not have tied into our curriculum more beautifully. In the area of geology, students demonstrated an excellent understanding of rock type, glacial impact and volcanic activity," Hanno said.
Eighth-grade special education teacher Lori Laperriere also chaperoned the field trip.
"As an eighth-grade teacher, you could tell students were coming in with a lot of knowledge and applying what they had learned in a hands-on experience," Laperriere said.
For the kids on the field trip, the three days were not only educational, but fun. "I wish it could be way longer. Like three weeks," said 12-year-old Keegan Sharp. "It was good for kids who don't normally go outside to be able to do something active."
Kyle Harris, 12, said he enjoyed the frog and amphibian hunt, and performing group skits.
While learning about geology and the environment, the students also learned about independence and teamwork, as they lived and worked with their classmates for three days.
"It was nice to have roommates," said Madison Davis, 12. "You got to make new friends and spend time with people outside of class that you wouldn't normally see."
Rose Urda, 12, said that although she went into the trip having been taught the geology curriculum in school, the hands-on activities helped expand on her knowledge.
"What we learned helped me a lot in science class after that," she said.
For Shepard-Gay, the benefit to students was clear.
"It was a physical challenge as well as an emotional challenge, and an opportunity to build and practice social skills and communication. I'm a huge proponent of experiential learning, making real world connections and having learning stick because it creates a much deeper understanding," she said.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein at Twitter.com/CEFeinstein.