November 24, 2012

OUTDOORS: These students are schooled in the outdoors

BY DEIRDRE FLEMING

BY DEIRDRE FLEMING

Maine Sunday Telegram

LOW AND BURBANKS, N.H. -- Jed McGill had never seen a moose up close before; neither had Nate Skvorak. But recently, that was the payback for the Windham High School Outing Club's backpacking trip up and over Mt. Madison's snow-covered peak.

That's what $1 million gets you.

Three years ago, Windham High's Outing Club won a $1 million federal grant for its outdoor program, nutrition curriculum and unique adventure physical education class that involves rock climbing, kayaking, biking and fly fishing.

The 2009 Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant allowed the school to take the outdoor and fitness programming it had developed and expand it tenfold.

This fall, the last of the federal money was spent on a treasure trove of sporting equipment that makes Windham's gym look like a state university. Next summer, according to science teacher and outdoor club director Jeff Riddle, the real fun begins.

"This summer we are going to go on detailed, multisport expeditions. My ultimate goal is a natural history and cultural history multisport expedition across Maine," Riddle said.

It's been a dozen years in the making, but the club is ready to take a step toward big-mountain action.

When Riddle arrived at Windham 12 years ago to teach earth science and coach cross country, he added the outdoor club to his course load, which left little time for outdoor fun. So he proposed co-teaching an "adventure physical education" course that involved rock climbing, kayaking, fishing and hiking to ramp up the outdoor exposure he could offer students.

Those interested in a club that went hiking, camping and rock climbing now had the opportunity to explore these activities and skills in a class.

As a result the outdoor club, now with 50 active members, grew in popularity.

But Riddle wanted to give the students more, so when the PEP grant was suggested in 2008 he already knew what he wanted: trailers full of road bikes, kayaks, fishing gear, tents and backpacks.

The grant paid for, among other gear, eight tents, 12 expedition backpacks, 12 sleeping bags and 30 pairs of Nordic skis and boots, as well as 14 fishing kayaks, 18 sea kayaks, 30 life vests, 30 wetsuits, 13 road bikes, four inclosed trailers and a $70,000 climbing wall. The last was an add-on to the $30,000 wall Riddle had built through a fund-raising effort.

It made possible outings like the backpacking trip in the White Mountain National Forest two weeks ago, which was taken by six students and guided by Dom Lambek, a teacher who volunteers his time to the club.

"The most rewarding part of that hike was seeing the momma moose and the baby. They came a lot closer than I expected. But she was cautious because of the baby," McGill said.

McGill's first experience on a long hike was last year's 10-mile trek up and around Baldface Mountain in New Hampshire. McGill said then he didn't know what to expect, or if he'd like trudging through the snow.

"I wanted to do it again," he said.

The club also has given a dozen students roles as trip leaders who plan adventures around hiking, fishing, kayaking, skiing, rock climbing and cycling. McGill became a cycling division leader last year. Now he wants to lead the outing club onto mountain bike trails.

Jack Brockelmanc, a junior, said he gets his homework done earlier so he can make the outing club nights after school.

"Last year I came to every climbing night. If this climbing wall wasn't here, I wouldn't go climbing. But it's hard not to try with it right here at school," Brockelmanc said.

(Continued on page 2)

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