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Bay Terrace students visit great outdoors

Last week many of the fourth- and fifth-graders returned from the annual pilgrimage to the YMCA's Greenkill Outdoor Environmental Center in upstate Huguenot, marking the 12th year PS 169 has given kids a chance at a unique "academic vacation."

"It gives them a sense of total immersion," said John Butler, the head teacher for the Greenkill trip. "They come back pretty excited about the experience. I think it gives a lot of them a real kickoff into the outdoors."

PS 169 Principal Annette Kunin said the trip is something students look forward to.

"It's like a rite of passage," she said. "It makes the curriculum come alive."

That passage includes a two-night, three-day trip featuring a variety of lessons about the outdoors, depending on the season, Butler said. Some of this year's students had classes about bird watching, hiking, finding fossils and reading compasses as well as field and stream activities, and they could observe a variety of animals ranging from rabbits to a tiger cub.

At the beginning of the Greenkill trip, Butler said, students are given a lesson that emphasizes cooperation, while at the end the kids participate in a fictional town hall meeting to consider a proposition to build an amusement park on marsh land.

"They get both sides of the story," Butler said. "It's not slanted - they make it tough for the kids to decide for the wetlands."

Kunin praised the trip as a way to bring the students and the staff together, and she credited the generosity of the parents and teachers who support and chaperone the trip for its success.

"It's admirable of them to give up their time," she said. "It's a joint effort between parents, teachers, and supervisors."

Given the state Department of Education's recent push toward higher academic standards - which has resulted in more testing for fourth-grade students - the Greenkill experience provides invaluable hands-on experience for the kids, she said.

Referring to new science standards that require students to write about non-fictional events, Kunin said the Greenkill trip gives students real life experiences to work with.

"You can't write unless you have something to draw on," she said. "There's got to be a balance."

Helen Reed, a member of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, said the Greenkill trip gives students the chance to grow both socially and academically.

Kunin said the trip is often a first camping trip or overnight journey away from home for many students.

"It builds a sense of camaraderie among the students," she said. "They really feel like they've been through an experience together - there's a whole sense of excitement around it.

"It's part of the whole fabric of the school," she said.

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