Mini-Cispus is a scaled-down version of the same classes students typically experience at Cispus Outdoor School
Ridgefield School District’s fifth and sixth graders returned to outdoor learning this week with the new Mini-Cispus program. Cispus camp was delayed for two years due to COVID restrictions, so this year’s alternate program brought both the entire fifth and sixth grade classes to Whipple Creek Regional Park.
Mini-Cispus is a scaled-down version of the same classes students typically experience at Cispus Outdoor School. Over two days of classes, students circulated through several learning stations. They hiked to different locations throughout Whipple Creek Regional Park to study the lifecycle of salmon, test creek water for oxygen, and test the pH levels in soil. During their hikes, they did a natural scavenger hunt, finding specific plants and items. And they created art based on their experiences on the trails, wrote nature-related poems, and listened to oral storytelling.
Students at the nature art station found inspiration in everything they saw around them. One student sketched a detailed environment, explaining that he planned to use it as a rough sketch for larger pencil drawings at home. Another student gathered actual natural elements from the trail, creating art from the leaves, grass, flowers, and mud. This is part of the joy of Cispus, discovering new and different things, and experiencing a taste of independence as you learn.
The spirit and camaraderie of Cispus remained the same, with counselors leading students through traditional Cispus camp songs and fun activities. Camp counselor Jonah Stenbak, a sophomore at Ridgefield High School, hurled plastic eggs into the high grass for a group of campers. The students ran wildly into the field to search for the eggs. Even when Stenbak announced repeatedly, “All the eggs have been found,” the students kept running through the grass and laughing, elated to be outdoors.
Sixth grade teacher Laurie Pritchard spent more than twenty years leading the Cispus Outdoor School program, and she was glad to be outside again with her students. “It’s fun having the kids back out in nature’s classroom,” she said. “It’s a wonderful modification to the program, considering everything that these kids have been through the last couple of years.”
Fifth grade teachers Annie Pintler and Amanda Burgess designed the Mini-Cispus program this year, and they were both excited to see the students getting to experience outdoor learning after two years away from Cispus.
“The kids are having such a blast!” Pintler said. “It gives them all a chance to experience learning in a new way. It feels so different when you’re not stuck in a classroom.”
Burgess agreed. “It rained a lot at the beginning of the week, but it didn’t slow the students down at all,” she said. “They are so glad to be outside, even when they’re hiking through the mud.”
As if on cue, two students walked to the edge of the nearby field, where they smashed their boots happily into a large mud puddle. Asked if it would be okay to take a picture of their muddy boots, they agreed right away. “We might get our picture in the yearbook for standing in the mud!” they exclaimed. Soon other students joined them, and the group danced together through the mud, delighted to find another small joy outdoors at Mini-Cispus.
Information provided by Ridgefield School District.