Students and Faculty Treasure 8th Grade Echo Hill Experience

This week, after the Covid 2020-2021 year of no field trips, PDS eighth graders triumphantly returned to the much beloved annual three-day outdoor learning and teambuilding experience at Echo Hill! Located on the beautiful shores of the Chesapeake Bay, Echo Hill Outdoor School’s mission is to bring learners into “the magic of the environment with no classrooms, no textbooks, and no assignments.” Thanks to great autumn weather at Echo Hill in a week punctuated by storms here, the students explored breathtaking landscapes from marshes to local waterways while observing and appreciating more deeply their natural environment, all while bonding more closely as a grade. 

Pam Flory, PDS Garden Coordinator and chaperone on the trip, explains the sustainability-themed origins of this now-treasured outdoor learning experience: “It was our Sustainability Coordinator, Liz Cutler, who noticed several years ago that there was a ‘nature immersion’ gap for our Middle School students relative to the Lower and Upper Schools, and who led the quest to find an equitable outdoor experience that every Middle School student could participate in.” 

Accompanied by faculty from PDS, students take advantage of every facet of the three-day experience, including the opportunity to explore environmental stewardship in action. “One of the biggest objectives of the trip is to introduce students to the idea of sustainability and ways to practice it. Whether it’s about creating awareness about how much food is wasted during a meal or learning about where our water comes from and the paramount importance of keeping it clean, the environmental experience that the students have during the trip is both powerful and empowering.” 

Spending three consecutive days in nature is a big shift for 8th graders, most of whom are used to spending a lot of time on screens. “This type of experience is always beneficial to our middle schoolers, but is especially so this year, after 18 months of social isolation and long periods of remote learning due to the pandemic,” explains Cloey Talotta, Middle School Learning Specialist, PDS Wellness team member and one of the many faculty chaperones at Echo Hill.

Talotta was inspired by the transformations she observed as the trip progressed: “I saw our students ‘in the moment’ instead of worrying about what was coming next, encouraging each other to reach goals and challenge themselves. It was great to see the kids push themselves to try new experiences with support from their peers.”

Nicole Mangino, Eighth Grade Dean and trip coordinator as well as chaperone, believes her “tent-lag” was well worth it, noting that she received emails from parents after the students’ return home describing their children as “brimming with confidence” and expressing elation that the trip was such a great success.

Enjoy this Flickr album from the 2021 8th Grade Echo Hill trip, which contains many beautiful photos taken by chaperones. 

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