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SAEL students take winter camping trip, learn survival skills

Ivan Natividad
Staff Writer
SAEL's 10th grade students pose during their winter camping trip in Mount Rose.
Submitted to The Union |

The Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, also known as SAEL, a public charter high school located on the Bear River High School Campus on Magnolia Road in Grass Valley, recently took its 10th grade students out on a three-day winter camping trip to Mount Rose in Nevada.

The trip was the culmination of weeks of studying the idea of surviving and thriving in the wilderness.

“They studied the physiology of what it takes to survive,” SAEL Principal Erica Crane said. “They read “Lord of the Flies,” and studied different empires throughout history and how they survived. So the purpose of the trip was to really push them to feel what it’s like to try to survive in a winter environment that can be really difficult.”

The school took 20 students to the Mount Rose wilderness area in Reno the first week of December, where SAEL Adventure and Physical Education teacher Dale Berry and two other educators led the students through a 2.2-mile snow trail and down into a campground where the students dug up the ground to set up tents to live in for the two nights. Berry, though, says most of the work was done beforehand.

“This was a real unique opportunity for them because they had to collaborate and look after each other to really thrive, and you could see that.”
Physical Education teacher Dale Berry

“We prepared for it by looking at what calories we would need. We learned about heat loss and the different ways the body loses heat and retains heat,” Berry said. “We looked at gear and equipment to be able to do this really safely, and for this particular trip we looked at five different weather models, so we knew exactly what type of conditions we would see when we were out there.”

Berry said the Mount Rose trail they took was through a fire safe entrance road, and students set up boiling water to use to cook food throughout the day. The students would also do some snow science study, looking at how snow metamorphism works in the cold inclement weather.

Berry said the trip was a transformational process for many of his students.

“We had some students that struggled on the physical piece on the first day because of altitude and snowshoeing through heavy snow,” Berry said. “But on that second and third day they really were verbalizing that they were thriving in that environment, learning how to keep warm and keep their hands dry. That allowed them to really be more active in that environment. It was a very tough and taxing experience for these students.”

Crane said the trip reflects a big part of what SAEL aims to do in supporting students to push themselves beyond their own limits.

“We’re going to push and challenge students in a real way, so when we study something we’re going to go out and do it, and take them outside of the traditional classroom,” Crane said. “So it’s project-based, it’s hands-on and it puts kids in the situations that we read about and talk about.”

Berry said the trip also gave his students a chance to build character in an unconventional environment.

“This was a real unique opportunity for them because they had to collaborate and look after each other to really thrive, and you could see that,” Berry said. “Students demonstrating great character, actively going and helping other students, helping other students who needed help, and it was wonderful to see those students come forward and exhibit those types of character traits like collaboration, and grit, and perseverance.”

Crane says the trip will be an annual cornerstone for their 10th-grade students, and the 9th-grade students will go on an annual outdoor trip every year as well.

Parents and students interested in joining SAEL in the coming school year have until Feb. 20 to apply.

Berry says he hopes to take more students on outdoor learning adventures in the future, as they help him learn as an educator.

“It really allows me to see students in a different light. When you go through an experience like that with your students, you develop a strong bond,” Berry said. “Also the students themselves, you could feel the group had definitely come together in a different way than it would happen in a classroom, and that’s one of the powers of adventure learning, and that’s one of the powerful pieces of our school.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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