Oak Creek In the past, the 11 weeks between Christmas break and spring break meant bad things for the students of Soroco Middle School. As boredom rose, grades dropped. But 10 years ago, science teacher Kate Hayne came up with an idea to alleviate the winter blues.
"We just said, we've got to do something," Hayne said. "We need to get outside. Some of us feel that if you live in this area, you've got to get outside, otherwise you'll go crazy."
To keep students sane, Hayne created "winter studies day." On this day, students travel to Stagecoach State Park and participate in a variety of fun learning activities.
"They really look forward to it," Hayne said. "Plus, there's a lot of different people for the kids to interact with."
Wednesday marked the 10th consecutive trip to the park, in which sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders could experiment with chromatography, twig weaving, cross country skiing, survival skills, art, avalanche rescue, wood burning, ice fishing, hydroelectricity, broomball, snow studies, snowshoeing, snow candles, outdoor cooking, building fires, snow sculptures, snow caves and bat houses.
Students got to choose three activities, each of which is as popular as the next, Hayne said. The more than 40 volunteers who guided students included parents, teachers, high school students and park rangers.
"It's a fun day for the kids to interact with their teachers on a different level," Hayne said. "We're still teaching them, but when they see the math teacher s down there playing broomball and the history teachers doing an art project, the kids are like, 'whoa! OK!'"
"You can just see the excitement on these kids faces," Soroco Principal Mike Hare said.
Most of the students were happy about just being outside.
"It's fun and it's way better than a classroom," 13-year-old Martin Germain said.
Some said it is a better learning experience because it is more hands on than classroom lectures.
"It's fun because when people explain things to you, you can only understand it up to a certain extent," said Chelsea Bonfiglio, 14.
"When you actually go and see it, you can ask questions, you can look, you can kind of experiment for yourself, and you can really completely get what the concept is that you are trying to figure out."
After activities, the students ate. There to assist were the parents, who participated in an activity of their own: a chili cook-off.
"It's not a big competition," Hayne said. "There's no grand prize, but it is entertaining."
After lunch, it was time for the cardboard sled race.
Students built custom sleds using only cardboard, duct tape and rope.
After a long day of outdoor learning and fun, the 110 middle school students traveled back to Soroco.
There, they each had to write a poem, skit or song telling what they learned over the course of the trip.
The children were also pre-tested and post-tested to make sure they were paying attention, which Hayne says is never a problem.
Just for participating in winter studies day, students get points for their grades, which also makes them happy.
"It was just fun to get out and get points and credit for school while ice fishing and hitting people while playing broomball," 14-year-old John DeCosta said jokingly.
Broomball was a popular game reserved for the eighth-graders.
"The broomball I thought was especially fun, because there's an adrenaline rush, and it was a lot of fun," said Rachel Elston, 13. "It was really competitive. It was do or die."
Others enjoyed more peaceful activities.
"I liked the (outdoor) cooking," said 14-year-old Jeremy Corporon.
"We cooked pizza in a dutch oven. We made s'mores, teriyaki soup. It was all good."
But, what's really "all good" is the overall regaining of interest in learning.
"It's just fun seeing the kids so enthusiastic about going off to different activities," Hayne said. "Usually when grades begin to drop, it's right around this time of year, so it's good to see the students really excited."