Students Find Wide Range of Opportunities During 'Discovery Week'


(Thursday, May 15, 2008 2:27 PM EDT)

Remember your school field trips to a local historical site or to a nearby aquarium?

Well, the Wakefield School in The Plains blows those field trips out of the water with its annual middle school Discovery Week, which this year took place from April 21-25.

Discovery Week, which started when the middle school was established six years ago, was created to give students the opportunity to learn through experience.

Students pick from a wide variety of different trips and activities, challenging themselves in the areas of adventure, knowledge and culture, and service.

Events the students could choose from this year included a visit to the Grand Canyon (see photo at right), a 184-mile bike trip along the C&O Canal, and an art tour in New York City, as well as more local choices, such as “Hands-On Horses,” which explored horse management, riding and horse sport.

For those of you thinking this sounds like a vacation for the students, Head of the Middle School Dorothy Fontaine says to think again. “This is anything but a break,” she said.

Although not all the Discovery Week choices are directly connected with the students' academics, “putting them in a safe but unusual environment” allows them to “see how their minds work . . . [and learn to] make ties across categories,” Fontaine said.

But why offer this opportunity to just the middle school?

It turns out that experiential learning is particularly good for the 6th- to 8th-grade age group.

“People forget that middle school students need hands-on activities as much as elementary students,” Fontaine said. “Nothing beats middle-school malaise like experiential learning.”

Josh Gravett, who said he has “always been one who likes theater,” learned first-hand how to act more dramatically by observing the actors in the three plays by Shakespeare he saw as part of “Shakesperience in Staunton.”

Discovery Week also gives students the chance to try something they've never tried before, and to realize, “I can do that,” which can do wonders for their confidence, Fontaine said.

For Isabelle Byers, who went on the “Art Over Time in New York City” trip, having to draw the statues in the Metropolitan Museum of Art helped her remember what she'd learned about them much better than if she'd read about them in a book.

“I never could have done that in a classroom,” she said.

Lauren Phillips, who participated in “Hand-On Horses,” even got a taste of a possible future career.

“Maybe I could be a horse trainer,” she said. “Discovery Week made me think of things I want to do when I grow up.”

Since all the 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders participate (a total of 121 students this year), Discovery Week also is a way for the students to bond with each other, as well as with their teachers, parents and other people they interact with throughout the experience.

“I learned a lot about the people I was with,” said Taylor Thompson, who went to the Grand Canyon. “There were people on the trip I didn't know well, and now we're friends.”

“I love people. I'm a people person,” said Ted Sacripanti, who spent the week helping those in need in Fauquier County.

Through Discovery Week, “I really learned how to connect with [people in need],” he said. “I think it'll be a skill I use in the future.”

Among the opportunities during "Discovery Week" was the chance to go to the Grand Canyon.

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