Each year, about 60 Armatage students have the opportunity to become country mice for a few days when they visit Lake Country Land School in May. This new tradition, which started in 2011, allows Armatage fifth graders to enjoy the unique educational experiences offered at the facility near Baldwin, Wisconsin.
The Land School is a 160-acre parcel owned and operated by Lake Country School (LCS), the independent Montessori school in south Minneapolis. LCS has developed the Land School to help educate students and the community about land stewardship, sustainability, and Dr. Maria Montessori’s fundamental belief that adolescents should be afforded opportunities to connect the work of the hand to the work of the head. Among its many outdoor features, the Land School offers virtual outdoor classrooms in the forms of prairies, woodlands, a pond, and a community farm.
What Students Experience
According to Armatage 4th/5th-grade teacher Christian Houdek, Armatage students participate in team-building activities, learn camping and wilderness survival skills, study various widlife large and small, create environmental art, and enjoy other outdoor activities usually not available in an urban setting. The students typically also participate in a service learning project.
For students with a Montessori background, the Land School also offers a practical setting in which to apply the lessons they’ve learned during their Montessori careers.
Who Makes it Happen
2011 Armatage graduates were the first to partake of the Land School’s varied offerings. That outing was spearheaded by then-PTA president SuAnn DeGeorgeo. Although 2011-12 PTA president Shevvi Crowley humbly states that the PTA is “minimally involved” in the 2012 outing, the association in fact plays a crucial role in the trip. As Armatage parent Mary Hanson notes, LCS charges $100 per student. In 2012, the PTA established a scholarship pool ($1,000) for the trip and will also underwrote the cost of the students’ food ($2,500). All of the proceeds from February’s Chipotle Night and the Family Fun Walk dunk tank were earmarked for the trip. Hanson also points out that REI generously donates the use of tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other outdoor necessities for the rustic setting.
“This trip is important to the [PTA],” Ms. Crowley explained. “We want to keep it affordable for all students.... We think it is a great experience for all of the fifth graders and want to see 100 percent participation.”
Participation is also tied to classroom goals. Hanson says that students must achieve 100% completion of their work during the school year and a minimum 80% of that on time to attend.
“It is a great motivator for many kids to stay on task with their assignments and helps them to feel they earned the trip, too,” Hanson continues. “My daughter went last year and had a fabulous time, and my son will go next year.
“Remind kids to bring sunscreen!” Hanson added. “Even though it’s in early May, everyone got a bit burned last year!”
In addition to the PTA, REI, and parents like Hanson, Armatage faculty and administration are also instrumental in making the Land School experience possible. “The 4/5 teachers lobbied Principal Franks to do this [last year] and it comes from their passion for giving our kids as much of the traditional Montessori experience as possible within our public school environment,” Crowley says.
Houdek has been the trip’s point person on the teaching staff, while extra support actually comes from parents of fourth graders who will participate next spring.
Importance to the Armatgage Experience
And is Principal Franks pleased that her 4/5 faculty were able to convince her this was a wonderful opportunity for outgoing Armatage students? “The Land School trip gives our fifth graders the opportunity to better understand natural resources and how they impact our daily lives,” she comments. “In addition, it provides the students with team-building and cooperative grouping skills. Finally, the kids get an opportunity to understand how agriculture really works versus seeing livestock at a zoo or fair. They work on the farm and develop a better understanding of rural life versus city life.”
No doubt as Armatage fifth graders enjoy the crisp country air, gather organic eggs, romp through flowering apple orchards, and ponder the mysteries of a composting outhouse, they will also take a moment to celebrate one another’s achievements as Armatage Montessori students.
Thank you to parent Dennis Pernu for his work on this piece.
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