While the summer camps don’t officially start until June, in early April staff start to arrive on the Songadeewin campus on Lake Dunmore in Salisbury, VT for the Keewaydin Environmental Education Center (KEEC). Many camp alumni may be surprised to learn that more than 600 public school children attend KEEC in the spring and the fall. Since its founding in 1973, an estimated 35,000 students have spent a week at KEEC learning about the local and natural history of the area surrounding Lake Dunmore.
About to start its 47th year, KEEC operates for six weeks during each of the “shoulder” seasons of the summer camp. Tim Tadlock ’97 has been KEEC Director since 2006, and this spring Dara Aber-Ferri ’13 will return as the Assistant Director. Though many summer staff from Dunmore, Temagami, and Songadeewin have also worked at KEEC, the majority of the staff hired for KEEC are entirely new to Keewaydin.
This spring season at KEEC we are expecting 17 schools from Vermont and one from Massachusetts. Many of these schools and the teachers who work there have been attending KEEC annually for more than 15 years! In fact, the elementary schools from Chester and Cavendish VT have been coming to KEEC almost every year since 1973.
Just like the programming at camp, the main programming at KEEC has not changed much since its founding and still remains relevant to our daily lives. The average KEEC camper, aged 10 to 12, arrives at KEEC on Monday morning. Students jump off the bus, grab their gear, and move quickly into cabins located on the West side of the Songa campus. Shortly after, they are taken on a tour of the campus allowing them to become familiar with their surroundings. Then, that afternoon students spend two hours on the Communities Investigation, which takes them around campus and into the woods highlighting the theme of natural interdependence that is a central part of the curriculum. While involved in this introductory investigation, students learn about the Earth’s natural cycles such as the air cycle, the water cycle, the soil cycle, and the five basic needs of life. These topics provide a base of knowledge that is frequently referenced later in the week during other Investigations.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the campers participate in four more investigations, thematically centered around land use, local history, natural history, and human impact. These range from hikes on Burnt Mountain to discover how the glaciers carved out Mt. Moosalamoo, and Lake Dunmore, or an exploration along the Leicester River to discover clues about why dams and mills were built there during the past 300 years. Other investigations explore the lives of birds or plants surrounding camp, or how Keewaydin manages the surrounding forest.
Thursday is “Choice Day” in which the students get to choose what they would like to do for activities. This could be an all-day hike on Mt. Moosalamoo, a half day hike to Silver Lake, learning proper canoeing techniques on Lake Dunmore, learning to rock climb at our climbing wall or creating a mural to take back to school depicting the week spent at KEEC. They pack a lunch and spend the entire day outside. Thursday evening culminates with a campfire during which students perform their own skits about the natural cycles they have learned about during the week.
The benefits of KEEC continue beyond the investigations. Students are engaged in the learning process all day. In the evenings they enjoy the adventure of going on walks in the dark or engaging a mock town meeting. “Night Walks” help students explore their other senses beyond sight, and they learn about nocturnal creatures that do the same. The Town Meeting activity is a simulation of a real Vermont town meeting held annually to discuss town politics, and during this activity students are encouraged to get involved in their own community.
Even during mealtimes, the students are engaged in an awareness activity called Waste Watch. After each meal a KEEC staff weighs the food waste that is to be composted and posts the results on a graph. Throughout the week the students are encouraged to think about all of the energy that went in to getting the food on their plate, and what it means if they do not eat it. Table groups are then encouraged to discuss ways to reduce their waste during the meals and think about what other ways they can reduce their impact during their daily lives.
Many of the hallmarks of a typical Keewaydin camp experience exist at KEEC. Students rise with the gong at 7:30AM, have Inspection after breakfast, and we even have traditional Keewaydin style cookouts and campfires. But KEEC is more than just learning about our impact on the environment. Often, it is the first time that these 5th and 6th graders have been away from their parents, or lived communally with others. While at KEEC, each student is also assigned a job such as composting, weather reporting, dishwashing, or wood carrying. These activities help students understand how communities can function, and gives them a sense of individual responsibility.
On Friday morning the students play the Predator vs. Prey Survival Simulation Game. In this exciting capture-the-flag-like game of tag, the students assume the role of a particular member of the food chain and, while trying to meet their basic needs, are always on the lookout for other members higher up on the food chain. The game also serves as a capstone experience for the week as students are encouraged to think about how the lives of all organisms impact one another. Taking the time to think about how you impact the other organisms and environment around you is a primary goal at KEEC and one we are proud to promote.
If you would like to learn more about the KEEC program, or you know a school that would be interested in attending, please contact the KEEC director Tim Tadlock at (802)352-4247, or email Tim at [email protected].