Farm School 2015

Farm School for 6th and 7th Graders at Ocean Song
Farm School for 6th and 7th Graders at Ocean Song

The 6th and 7th graders spent a glorious week at Ocean Song in Occidental, CA, studying diverse environments, playing badminton, sanding soapstone, putting flowers in their hair and generally reveling in the great outdoors and camaraderie that is Synergy Farm School.

The Middle School teaching team is still new by Synergy standards, but not green in the sense of being naïve or inexperienced. Dominic, Nisrene, Sogolon, and Kristi introduced some creative new Farm School elements, including video clips of the day’s events, an earth-shaking decision to let kids sleep in and start breakfast at 9, and separate girls’ and boys’ camps to accommodate the nearly 50 kids.

The students were assigned a group and an environment to study, then conducted research and experiments to capture the biological essence of their designated habitat. The Redwood Rebels had a lush tree-covered hillside, the Pond Dwellers studied the low and drought-beleaguered area around the swimming hole, the Crystal Rockers perched on top of their giant rock like nimble lizards, and the Beeman Loop Snicker Bars chose a welcoming tree-shaded spot about a quarter mile from camp. Students explored their habitat, measured soil temperature, looked for signs of animal life, and created a picture of their respective microcosms. Each group then presented their findings to their peers, parents, and teachers.

Days were filled with food preparation and cleanup (news flash: the kids prefer white bread and are always hungry!) Parents helped keep meals and cleanup on track but as 6th and 7th graders, the kids were expected to pick up most of the maintenance slack. Ongoing soapstone projects kept both kids and parents mesmerized. My son bestowed me with a ring he had crafted that I intend to wear regularly!

Students and teachers were each assigned a person to profile (the kids called it “stalking.”) They observed/interviewed their assigned person and gave a presentation about their gestalt and their likes and dislikes. They also made a gift to give their person on the last day during closing circle. Most kids made soapstone gifts, but a few flower crowns were also shared.

Swimming at the pond was a high point for many, despite the drop in the water level, and it gave tweens and teens the chance to rinse off, jump off the dock, and test their swimming skills. S’mores around the campfire was a ritual conducted with military precision. I was the chocolate doler outer and certainly made a lot of friends!

The last night featured an epic talent show. I think every kid participated in at least one act, and a few appeared in many. A group slept out under the stars (and were awakened by sprinklers far earlier than planned!)

Although a few kids were homesick and a couple had sniffles and belly aches, most of the crew was in peak form, and on Friday everyone headed back to San Francisco tired, dirty, and happy. I’ve been to Farm School many times over the years with my two sons, and I’m always impressed by this tremendous outdoor ed program, where kids are exposed to nature and science and community, and where everyone learns and plays together and has a blast. This year was no different: Farm School 2015 was a great success.

–by Darya Mead; photos by Russ Curtis

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