Night Hikes and Nature: The Sixth Grade KEEP Trip

Kathleen Nickle (Middle School Skills for Literacy Teacher, Grade 6 Advisor) provides insights on this year’s sixth grade KEEP trip.

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In early October, the sixth grade students and faculty spent three days in the mountains of Kiyosato at KEEP (Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project). Throughout the trip, students were challenged to experience nature, learn more about themselves and develop new friendships. Many students were initially nervous about being away from parents, leaving electronics and being put in a cabin without their friends. Yet at the end of the trip, they enthused about their new experiences and deeper friendships.

On the first afternoon, half of the group hiked down to a gorge, and the rest up to a viewpoint. The three-hour hike was challenging for many students, but there was a reward at the end.

“One of the most memorable moments at KEEP was eating the most delicious FREE ice cream that we got to eat on the first day after the tiring but fun hike that we took. The hikes were challenging but that’s what made the hike even more fun!”
-Hana Freeman (Grade 6)

Other daytime activities included guided time in the forest with KEEP rangers who led interactive experiences to build teamwork and knowledge of the environment. The rangers also explained about the jersey dairy farm at KEEP and led students step by step through the butter making process.

“I loved KEEP. There was lots of stuff to do and you had lots of fun with the people in your cabin. The hikes were really fun, and we got to make butter!”
-Joel Zumbahlen (Grade 6).

Many students said the final evening was a highlight. Our middle school counselors, Jackie Douglass and Steve Bennett, have developed two new curriculum programs called Boys’ Council and Girls’ Circle. Each sixth grade advisor led a small group through the first session, and lessons will continue this semester on Fridays during flex time with the same small group focusing on friendship and relational issues.

The first session for both boys and girls focused on finding commonalities, group identity and communicating in an honest and respectful way. While Girls’ Circle met indoors, the boys headed out into the darkness on a night hike. They later traded places as the boys met indoors and the girls headed out on their own night hike.

“KEEP was AMAZING! I especially liked the night hike. After learning how to walk like a fox to stay quiet and not scare away the wildlife, the ranger took us out to a giant field. The stars were breathtaking, and we even saw a satellite or two flash across the sky!”
-Kunaal Chandrashekar (Grade 6)

KEEP was an invaluable experience for our sixth graders to bond with peers and teachers in a natural environment. A break from the city, the constant draw of electronics and the pressures of school allowed us all to regroup and form a collaborative connection for the year.