4/5 Farm School: Exploring nature, enjoying friends at River’s Bend

Farm School Synergy 2018 MK-3641-X2

Synergy’s 4th and 5th graders reveled in the cold, clear waters of the Navarro River and slept beneath the bright, starry skies for an entire school week. The occasion was Farm School, an annual outdoor education trip. This was the students’ first time at a new location, River’s Bend Retreat Center in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. This was also the last Farm School trip for retiring teacher Joan Pettijohn.  

Although we miss the old Ocean Song campsite, there is much to love about River’s Bend, particularly the great weather and spending time at the river swimming, skipping rocks, and catching tiny frogs.  

Our Farm School schedule was packed from morning to night with classes, activities, cooking & cleaning duties, and evening events. Teachers led morning classes in Botany, Poetry, Tile Mosaics, and Ecosystems. One student remarked, red-faced, that she “learned more than [she] wanted to know about plant reproduction” in teacher Rea Inglesis’ Botany class! Afternoon choice activities included swimming in the river, weaving basket shaker instruments with parent Elsu Martin, creating collage art, and weaving yarn.  Everyone took turns preparing meals, serving food, and cleaning. The large, sunny kitchen was a hub of activity for parents and teachers who helped coordinate eager prep crews, servers, and dishwashers. Parent Marcin Kowanetz, who spent the entire week at Farm School, was particularly impressed with the students, “It was great to see how independent the kids can actually be! I think the kids learned how to appreciate and respect nature.”

The kids took full advantage of the large campus to spread out and have fun during the downtime between organized activities. Students could be found practicing skits on the bell deck, singing along with parent Julian Gross and his guitar, playing on the basketball court, hanging out on the play structure, or running around the lawns. One student said what he enjoyed most was, “spending time with friends playing basketball and throwing the frisbee”.  

Our special evening events included relay races, the Rites of Spring celebration, hiking the Nature Discovery Trail loop at dusk, the Talent Show, and roasting marshmallows for S’mores.  At night, students slept in shared tents that they pitched themselves at the edge of the meadow. A chorus of frogs and the sound of the running river serenaded weary heads to sleep.

On Thursday, instead of classes, we drove to Hendy Woods State Park for a hike through a grove of towering, old-growth coastal redwoods. Teacher Rea reflected that, “it was special to be able to share Hendy Woods with the kids.” Several students shared that their favorite park of the week was climbing the ancient, fallen redwoods in the park. Our hike weaved through dense redwoods, some of them up 300 feet tall and 1,000 years old, and we stopped along the way to learn about their amazing biology.

At Synergy School, outdoor education is both a tradition and critical to our curriculum, starting with the K-3 Camping Trip, continuing with 4/5 Farm School, Middle School Farm School, the 6/7 camping trip, and culminating in the 8th grade trip abroad. Research on outdoor education programs consistently show that they increase students’ academic performance, are associated with better physical and mental health, support social-emotional and behavioral development, have a positive effect on environmental attitudes, and increase parent involvement in school. Most of all, learning outdoors is really fun for both students and teachers! For me, it was a joy to experience being outdoors with the students and learning about the natural world around us.


By Susanne DeRisi, Synergy Librarian & Parent


Recent News