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Derry middle-schoolers get taste of camp

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A group of 127 Derry Area Middle School sixth-grade students, along with parent and teacher chaperones, spent 52 busy hours this fall at Deer Valley YMCA Camp near Fort Hill.

The students participated in dozens of educational activities spanning all content areas over the course of the camping trip.

They hiked to the top of Mt. Davis, the tallest point in Pennsylvania, gathering puzzle pieces with historical facts about the state, took part in team-building activities and an aquatic safari and learned to canoe and kayak.

The camping experience tied in with two books the students have read: “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, a part of their fifth-grade curriculum, and “Seedfolks” by Paul Fleischman, which they read this year.

Derry Area Middle School principal Jeff Metzger, who helped coordinate the trip, said the camping experience was “a transition opportunity for our kids coming from grade 5 to grade 6. We involved the fifth-grade teachers and the sixth-grade teachers in the planning. The unit was started last April with the fifth-grade teachers, and we kicked it off. They worked on skills and read a novel on survival all the way through the end of the year.

“Then when they came up as sixth-graders ..., we picked up on that and read another novel to start the year,” he said. “A lot of the activities that were designed out there were based on those two novels.”

Students experimented with survival skills like those used by the main character in “Hatchet,” such as water filtration, archery, shelter building and attempting to start a fire by using flint and steel.

The campers attended nightly campfires, went on a hayride, tried out Native American games, made apple cider and two art projects, climbed the camp's rock wall and developed their own team cheers and chants.

“The standards were covered in science, writing, reading, even math, down to citizenship standards, some physical education standards with the bouldering wall,” Metzger said. “The team-building element: getting them to work together, being more collaborative as students, to trust each other, to listen to different perspectives. It was a tremendous opportunity for them.”

The trip cost each student $60, with the remaining $50 of the trip's cost covered by the district through grant opportunities and fundraising, he said.

“I just talked to a father tonight who has a third-grader, and his third-grader is already excited after listening to his sixth-grader come home,” Metzger said. “The dad said, ‘I've got to go again in another two or three years with him.' ”

The trip helped students and teachers get familiar with each other early in the school year and gave students a chance to make memories and try new things.

“I think that's overcoming some fears for them, doing some things they probably have never done,” Metzger said. “A lot of those kids might have never been on a boat, never hiked a couple miles in a row, some of those things that they did. They overcame a lot of fears, did some things they've never done and worked with their peers to do it.

“It was just a great experience. They're still singing the songs, sharing the memories. It's not going to go away anytime soon.”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or