The Willow School
Student spend hundreds of hours each school year in the classroom gaining
skills from dedicated teachers and staff with both limited resources and at
times exceptional tools and technology.
Depending on the school, students may have opportunities to visit local
businesses, museums, and parks or in some cases make journeys to the
nation’s capital or a historical site. Many students are lucky to experience one
or two field trips a year and many gain greatly from the educational journey
and the exposure to real world situations and environments.
At the Willow School we believe that students academic and social success are
intrinsically linked, and that field trips are not just an opportunity to see
something new, but an opportunity to build a foundation for
community, ownership, and validation as a necessary member of a
Each fall the Willow School hosts an exceptional educational three-day field trip
through the Pathfinder organization. During the Pathfinder trip, students
camp, hike, canoe, study environmental diversity, team build, and problem
solve, all while working in Florida’s natural landscape. This three-day trip may
only be a few hours from our school’s steps but it feels like another world to
our students and their discoveries, challenges, and adventure leave them
transformed in a way that could never occur in the classroom.
What’s missing in education?
Children in today’s rapidly changing high-tech world experience life at and
accelerated pace from just 20 years ago. There are more barriers
between community interaction and less dependency on the support of
and in many ways interaction with others. Although school settings allows
the opportunity for social foundations to build, students are still often left
feeling isolated or outcast from their peers.
Along with these social growing pains, students in today’s classrooms
are further removed from nature and the experience of connection with
the environment. Even as we develop greater access to the world around
us through the Internet and increased classroom resources, the enriching
contact with the animal world and places that connect us nature are
diminished. We are reminded by Kellert (2005), that a child’s first
experience of wonder and exploration happens in nature.
A typical Pathfinder fieldtrip contains a variety of activities. These activities are
not just for bonding, but also for creating an inner and outer challenge for
students to rise up to and conquer. A key component of the benefits of being
in nature revolve around struggle and problem solving.
As Keller (2005) notes: The direct experience of nature also extends to the
child the possibilities of uncertainty, risk and failure. These realities
necessitate adaption and problem solving as well as the need to construct
solutions and think critically, all of which are essential to lasting learning
and maturation. These conditions rarely arise when children passively
watch television, visit a zoo, manipulate a computer screen, or even in
most classrooms. (p.86 )
Amidst the many benefits associated with high-tech classrooms and the
computer age, concerns arise about the cognitive development children in
the high-tech age, as Michael Rich executive director of the Center on Media
and Child Health in Boston explains, “Their brains are rewarded not for
staying on task but for jumping to the next thing.” Thus developing an
inability to sustain attention.
Why Pathfinder Fieldtrips?
“For many students if you ask them what happened this year, they will tell you first about
something that happened on the field trips.” ~ Felicia North, Math and Science Teacher at the Willow
1.Social Connection: Children experience vulnerability, risk, and challenge together as they share
their experiences night and day for three days on the trip.
2. Problem Solving and Team Work: Students are given group challenges that involve teamwork,
trust and creativity.
3. Critical Thinking with hands-on experience: Students canoe, climb trees, build shelters, and
orient themselves in new territories.
4. Connecting and valuing nature:Nature walks, animal observations, water analysis and Native
American Culture are woven into the challenges and group exercises.
Let’s have some fun!Day One:
Incredible Journey (discovery time), Orienteering, Manatee CSI, Challenge course, and Hootenanny
+ Drums as Language
The Beast (group challenge), Enchanted Forest, Adventure Orienteering, Tree Climbing, High
Ropes, The Underground Railroad and Native American Life
Explore Florida Country, Closing ceremony, Final Reflections, and Student Evaluations
Need:The Willow School is a small private not for profit organization that works to
not only accept students who are able to pay for their tuition, but also for
those who cannot. Every year many students are accepted on full or
partial scholarships or alternative funding.
However, this funding contributes solely to tuition and not field trips and
other enriching activities that the Willow School considers necessary
experiences for a wholistic education.
Total financial need for 2013 Pathfinder experience: $2,306.50
Of the 23 students participating in our 2013 trip nearly 1/3 or 7 students required financial
assistance to participate.
Anticipated need for 2014 Pathfinder experience : $2,965.00
As our school grows we can anticipate a greater need for financial assistance on the Pathfinder
Each year the Willow School does its best to raise funds through
special events, grants, yard sales, and community dinners. These
funds are intended to work on school improvements, supplies, and
technology, yet when students are unable to afford the Pathfinder
Field Trips, these funds are diverted to those expenses.
$197.50 $5.00 $127.00 $329.50
1. Social Evaluation: Students will experience observational
evaluation from their teachers both during and after the field trips.
These observations of social skills, collaboration ability, and
confidence are often very noticeably changed immediately after the
2. Personal Reflection: Students will complete a written
assignment reflecting on their experience and its benefits for their
class. The written essays, which will vary for the age group, will be
presented within the weeks immediately following the trip.
3. Future Interests: Another opportunity for evaluation will
occur periodically throughout the year as students express a
willingness to perform extra projects outside of school. Past
projects have included building oyster beds for lagoon
preservation, participating in Jane Goodall’s Roots to Shoots
programs, joining the Science Olympiad club, and expressing a
great deal of genuine interest in our world’s sustainability.
At one point in my teaching career my students were all special education students in a
separate day school. Enrollment in this school meant that the student had been
expelled from public school for behavioral reasons. Many of these students came
from lower income families, often with violent or dysfunctional pasts. At one point
students had the opportunity to go the zoo. For some of my seventh graders, this
was their first visit to the zoo, even though it was a mere 20 minutes away. These
memories further validated my desire to assist our field trip program.
Although I did not work with a team to complete this grant, I could not have
succeeded without the assistance of my coworkers who gave supportive evidence
of the program. Our school’s office manager, director, and my fellow science and
math teacher all made the task of validating our need so much easier.
Since the Pathfinder program is already in place, and participants in the program
often speak of their most memorable moments of the year in regard to the
fieldtrip, I felt that further validation of our project could be incorporated with a
student presentation of their experiences there.
I hope that this evaluation method would not only validate the importance of this
program, but allow students a chance to reflect on their own experience and growth
in a more personal way. I look forward for more opportunities to write grant
proposals and more importantly create programs that will serve our students in the
most enriching ways.
Kellert, S. R. (2005). Building for life designing and
understanding the human-nature connection.
Washington, DC: Island Press.
Richtel, M. (2010, November 21). Growing Up
Digital, Wired for Distraction. www.nytimes.com.
Retrieved April 15, 2014, from