Teacher collaborates with National Park Foundation for outside classroom

May 28, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • North Hagerstown High School teacher Wendy Fraker took 55 students in her International Baccalaureate biology and IB physics classes on an overnight trip in October to Camp Greentop at Catoctin Mountain Park.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

It was the opportunity to move her classroom to an outdoor, hands-on setting that prompted North Hagerstown High School teacher Wendy Fraker to seek grants for an overnight learning experience at Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Md., in the fall. 

Fifty-five students in her International Baccalaureate biology and IB physics classes traveled Oct. 19 and 20, 2011, to Camp Greentop for the experience.

Fraker began writing the grant proposal in April 2011, with the funding covering food, camp rental, and transportation to and from the camp.

The result was a collaboration with the National Park Foundation, Park Ranger Debbie Mills at Catoctin Mountain Park and Fraker. NPF offered 20 park steward grants to any national park, and Fraker was selected to receive one of them.

According to a news release from Mills, in the 1960s and 1970s, Catoctin Mountain Park was the site for residential outdoor education for Washington County and Frederick County Public Schools.

Washington County Public Schools based its residential outdoor education at Camp Misty Mount at the park until the late 1970s, when Fairview Outdoor School, now called Claud E. Kitchens Outdoor School at Fairview, was built. Frederick County sixth-graders used Camp Greentop for their residential program until 1996, when the program was discontinued.

The North High students are the first public-school students to participate in residential environmental education at Catoctin Mountain Park since 1996, according to the release.

“I would do it again,” said student Ben Shuster, 18. “It was great to have hands-on experience. It was different than learning out of a textbook.”

Fairview keeps a full schedule during the school year hosting WCPS fifth-graders overnight, and offers day programs for middle- and high-school students, but not overnights, Fraker said.

“We’re hoping the model we’ve created will help teachers in Frederick and Washington County,” Fraker said.

Besides the curriculum-based activities — which included macroinvertebrate and water-quality studies — Fraker’s students also completed service learning, which included removing Japanese barberry, a compact shrub that is invading natural areas, earning student service-learning hours for their efforts.

Several students said the experience brought back fond memories of their overnight experiences at Fairview when they were fifth-graders.

“I think a lot of them were reintroduced to the beauty this area has to offer,” Fraker said. “It’s hands-on, real-world application of what we talk about in class.”

The first day at camp, it rained all afternoon and evening, but the rain cleared out for the second day, allowing the group to take a hike down to the creek for macroinvertebrate studies. 

“I thought it was fun,” said student Alex Unger, 18. “It was neat to be out of the classroom. The rain didn’t take away. Even though it was raining, it was fun.”

Fraker is in her 16th year teaching at North High and her fourth year with the school’s IB program.

The grant required 40 days of service in some capacity by Fraker, who worked at Catoctin Mountain Park last summer, collaborating on a junior ranger booklet, working at the visitors center, and with Scouts and day-camp programs, as well as planning for this project.

The high school students also were learning and preparing for the next phase of the experience — serving as peer mentors and educators for 100 Northern Middle School sixth- and seventh-graders in April at Camp Greentop.

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