Fifth Grade Capstone Experience
photo courtesy Annie Fontaine

A Parent's Perspective on the Fifth Grade Field Trip
by Mike DeGeorgeo

A capstone is a “crowning achievement,” and for the 5th Grade students and teachers of Armatage, their annual trip, which occurred last week from Wednesday, May 9 – Friday, May 11, was a true capstone for everyone involved. As you may know, the 5th Grade Trip involved camping for three days and two nights at the Lake Country Land School located 90 minutes away in a farming area in Wisconsin. It’s worth drawing your attention to the 5th Grade Trip because it is significant, developmental, and special. This is the kind of curriculum that sets Armatage apart from the typical public school curriculum. And, I was fortunate enough to see some of this first hand last week.

Let me try to paint a picture of the Land School for you: I arrived at the Land School last Wednesday just before dinner. As I was pulling into the parking area at the main building, I was struck by two things: First, it was a cool, cloudless day, and the sunshine was pouring out of the sky; the large green field at the Land School was alive with light and the trees were swaying gently in the breeze. Second, I saw kids everywhere! Some were playing in the open field; others were running over from the nearby woods and barn. And, these kids just seemed to be bursting with energy there in the late afternoon sunshine.

As I walked into the main building for dinner, I saw many familiar faces. I saw our four fearless 5th grade teachers (Christian, Danielle, Ralph, and Stacy), and I also saw many other teachers and parent volunteers in the kitchen and elsewhere. And within the first 20 minutes or so of my arrival, I quickly heard many different exciting stories of what had happened so far in the first day at the Land School. Through these first impressions, I quickly began to understand that the 5th Grade Trip is a significant developmental program lead by the teachers, supported by the parents, and meant to positively and meaningfully impact the students through direct experience in the natural environment.

The kids pitched their own tents, they completed different types of farm activities, they learned how to make a camp fire, they dirtied their hands, they worked with animals, they explored the wildlife by the pond, they played in the fields and in the woods, and so much more. Essentially, the kids were in a “classroom” with no walls and or ceiling, gaining direct experience, and seeing the environment first-hand in a live encounter with the natural world.

And for me, it was FUN to be there! I continued to hear stories of the kids engaged with problem solving and working out how to cooperate. Some were seeing some things for the first time in nature and in our food supply. Others saw the night-time sky, loaded with stars, by sleeping out in the open air, far away from the city lights which so often extinguish the starlight here in our city.

As I was driving home late that night from the Land School back to Minneapolis, I was struck by how well this type of program aligns with what many of us seek in an education for our kids. Yes, we want good test scores, AND we also want our children to:

  • develop skills that help them to be independent
  • learn to be comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings
  • see the beautiful qualities of the world
  • experience wonder and mystery in the natural environment and our place within it
  • adopt appropriate ways of behaving that are respectful of themselves and others
  • be joyful and fulfilled people in their everyday lives

As I was driving home, I felt that this capstone experience at the Land School may be contributing towards some of these hopes we have for our kids. And, I believe these experiences will leave an impression. They matter to the development of our children. Walt Whitman captured this sentiment well:

“There was a child went forth every day; and the first object he look’d upon, that object he became. And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years. The early lilacs became part of this child, and grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird, and the third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf… “

So, hats off to the four 5th grade teachers - Christian, Danielle, Ralph, and Staci - for going well above and beyond the confines of their physical classrooms to give their kids something truly memorable and impactful in the name of their students’ broader learning and development. These teachers – like so many at Armatage – have gone the extra mile! And, a warm note of thanks to the many teachers, staff, and parent volunteers who were essential in making this kind of capstone experience possible for the kids.