Out of the Classroom, Into the Wilderness

Throughout the fall, our students have been visiting Black Rock Forest, a 4,000-acre living laboratory in Cornwall, New York. Earlier this month, middle schoolers spent the day there identifying rocks, studying plant life, and practicing wilderness-based emergency medical techniques. “The experience of learning in nature was great,” says eighth grader Noah. “I really enjoyed it.”
 
Harlem Academy recently joined the Black Rock Forest Consortium to enhance our curriculum in all grades with day and overnight trips that bring science to life. “The expansive outdoor educational spaces at Black Rock facilitate greater experiential and experimental learning across the science curriculum,” says Dr. Eric James, middle school director and science teacher.
 
Students in every grade have the opportunity to hike through the woods, walk the streams, and enjoy nature – all while putting into practice scientific lessons from the classroom. Whether they are gathering rock and plant samples for analysis or discovering the difference between freshwater and saltwater at the lake, field-based learning experiences and access to Black Rock’s advanced scientific equipment help students build on and deepen their classroom knowledge.
 
“We collected different rocks and tried to identify them:  igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic,” says sixth grader Brielle. “It’s what we’ve been learning in science class.”
 
They also gain new experiences by being out of the city. “We discovered how beavers build dams, and I’d never seen one before,” says seventh grader Khodi. “Seeing a dam for the first time was pretty cool.”
 
In Harlem Academy’s signature applied science unit on emergency medicine, students learn rescue scenarios drawing on their knowledge of human biology. For our eighth graders, the recent trip to Black Rock Forest was the perfect opportunity to try out life-saving techniques in the real world - not just in a classroom.
 
What happens if you need to make a splint for an injured person or administer CPR? Our students were up to the challenge. Employing skills learned in their emergency medicine unit, they deftly handled every improvised medical situation in the middle of the forest. “In my scenario, I had to help someone who was unconscious,” says Noah. “That involved several steps such as checking their airway and checking for injuries. It felt good to practice it in the actual wilderness.”
 
The next trip to Black Rock Forest is in the spring with a whole new set of hands-on activities planned - and our students can’t wait.
 
Thank you to the Harry Winston Hope Foundation, Con Edison, and Columbia Community Service for sponsoring our middle school science program.
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Harlem Academy is an independent school (grades K-8) that drives equity of opportunity for promising students, guiding them to thrive at the highest academic levels and one day make a mark on the world.