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From the Bleachers February 2014

From the Bleachers February 2014
By Beth Volpert

It never ceases to amaze me the number of folks who think I am nuts…

Bay Creek Middle School 7th grade field trip to Jekyll Island

ok, I will finish the sentence now…for volunteering to chaperon a field trip. A day trip, it seems, is grounds enough for commentary that indicates that I might be a bit “dotty” or have gone “ ‘round the bend “, but when I excitedly volunteered for a three-day tour that included a six hour bus ride with half of the Bay Creek Middle School 7th grade, well, that seemed to be enough to put me solidly in the “nuts” category. I beg to differ. For me, chaperoning this crew on the annual Jekyll Island Field trip was a joy!

First off, it didn’t hurt at all to be paired up with one of my besties. Vicki and I had a great time and she was as good a sport as any when the rain seemed a permanent part of our excursion or when the icy marsh water invaded her pink “wellies”. We got to room with a couple of other great gals and had some old-fashioned girl talk from the depths of the bunk room we shared.

The twelve young men in our group were a constant source of humor and wonder. Their personalities spanned the range of what you would expect in middle school and their perspectives were as different as the stars in the darkened beach sky. That dark beach was the site of some pretty great lessons; both scientific and personal. Our guide pointed out constellations that would otherwise remain hidden here in Grayson. He used a laser pointer that shot 2 miles up in the sky which impressed our crew to no end and gave the man some serious credibility for what he asked of them at the end of our lesson. He also didn’t hurt that cred when he passed out wintergreen Lifesavers and had us all crunch them at the same time to demonstrate the phenomenon of bioluminescence. Later, as we walked back, he had us all drag our feet backward in the mucky sand to shield the moonlight with our shadows which revealed bioluminescent phytoplankton that looked like glitter in our prints. One dear child who came to be known for his amazing quotes on the trip said, “This has to be how Michael Jackson invented the Moonwalk!” – more from this gem later…

What the guide had the kids do next could have melted down into a case of silliness, but it didn’t. Each student was asked to think about all the “input” they have on a daily basis and then look around at the “input” they found on the beach. The kids all agreed that it was an eye-opener to be able to see so much in the dark. A lesson on rods and cones in the eye took place and THEN…the guide asked them each to consider walking alone, in the dark, quietly up the very long boardwalk that spanned from the beach, through the dunes and into the first stages of maritime forest. I went first and was gifted with the responses each boy had as they emerged from the “walk alone”. One by one, they walked slowly out of the dark and sat on the railing, quietly awaiting their friends. One by one, subdued, they told the guide that it had been a cool experience. The lesson that there is such a thing as “silence” was not lost.

That experience seemed to refocus the kids on the greater purpose for such a grand field trip to Jekyll Island. They stopped often, tried new things and waited patiently for their friends to climb trees, navigate marsh mud, scoop nets in the tide, slice open a shark, handle snakes and alligators, and listen to guides. Our “character” made lots of great comments, but my favorite was as we all tasted a “sea pickle” in the marsh. It is a tiny fruit from a marsh plant that tastes very salty and is a bit rubbery in consistency. “ET” said of the experience, “These are like the rhubarb of the South!” Now, I am not sure what his experiences are, I only just met the kid, but it reminded me that they all come with a certain set of familial data in their brains that make the experience uniquely their own. But to share that experience with such descriptive language made our group’s collective experience all the better. Thanks “ET”.

We finished our trip with two walks on the last day. The first followed the establishment of the maritime forest and resembled a scene from “Jurassic Park”. In the depths of the maritime forest is the somewhat famous “Grandfather Oak”. The giant live oak (State Tree of Georgia), is around 200 years old and the kids all want their group photo taken there. The last walk we took was with the “favorite” guide of the trip. We walked down the famous Jekyll Island beach with all the salt-preserved live oak “bones”. He pointed out the complexities of an island that is continuously shifting from north to south and although the kids were tired, cold, hungry and ready to head home, they remained focused on the lesson.

I’d like to think that that first long walk made enough of an impression on our group that they became more aware of each nuance the island had to offer. Maybe, maybe not…but one thing is for certain…from my perspective, chaperoning offers an amazing view and you don’t really have to be nuts to enjoy, but it helps.

Beth Volpert is a freelance writer, blogger, and feature writer with the Gwinnett Citizen. As a mother, Beth spends a lot of time with her children watching them ‘From the bleachers’… 

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