Wolf Ridge trip coming soon — help us if you can.

My class and five other 5th-grade classrooms from Andersen School in Minneapolis are headed for Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in northern Minnesota in two months. It’s going to be a great learning experience for our students, not to mention a lot of fun. (Read my post about last year’s trip here)

Lisa Hartmann's band of "voyageurs" prepares to paddle the big canoe.

97% of the students of our school come from families below the poverty line. Two-thirds speak English as a second language. Virtually all are students of color. They also blow just about every stereotype of kids from these kinds of backgrounds out of the water. They are, for the most part, bright, well-behaved, good students, good kids. Most of them come from strong families, good parents and have hard-working role models in their lives.

So what’s the problem? A couple of things.

Can you touch the mountain goat at the top of the climbing wall?

First, most of them have not had the experiences in their lives that children from wealthier backgrounds have. Summer camps, music lessons, sports teams, seeing other places, doing new things, being away from home — all that stuff that many of us want for our children — are lacking for many of these students.

The other thing they lack is money. When you are “working poor”, you live paycheck to paycheck. You often work more than one job and worry constantly about making ends meet. You don’t have savings to dip into for things like expensive field trips.

The total bill for our 5th grade team is in the neighborhood of $22,000 for this 3-day trip (and that’s after a break on the bus price and the Wolf Ridge fee). That breaks down to nearly $200 per student. At other schools, they do some fundraising, but many families can afford to pay the money — maybe even kick in a little extra for a scholarship.

Ojibwe heritage class teaches students about the life of the native people of the north woods of Minnesota

At Andersen, several teachers have worked very hard writing grants and soliciting individual donations from friends. Every year it’s stressful and every year it seems to come down to the wire. We estimate our grant and donation money based on past experience and then ask our families to either pay or fundraise a certain amount. This year we’re asking for each student to pay $45 — a reasonable, but still significant amount.

Last year, four of the girls in my class took to rock climbing like spiders. They were fearless. (The boys were another story.)

We’ve got 60 days to go and it’s tight again this year. We’re unsure about getting one of the grants and we’re getting a little nervous.

I generally don’t like to ask for money, but I have no problem putting this out there in blogland for anyone who might be interested in making a tax-deductible contribution to our school, in any amount — small or large. In fact, I’m proud to be a teacher of these kids and I believe that this trip is such an important experience for them (and one that most of them will never have if we don’t take them) that I’m asking anyone who might be interested to help us out a bit.

We’re not asking you to feel sorry for our kids — just for a few bucks to send a deserving kid to camp.

Thank you very much. By the way, the kids are well-aware that most of the money to pay for the trip comes from generous donors, and they’re very grateful for it.

Email me at Steven.Date@yahoo.com for more info.

If you’d like to send a donation by check, make it out to “Andersen United Community School”.

Mail it to me at:

Steve Date / See to Sea Productions
P.O. Box 19416
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Thanks VERY much!

The ropes course challenges kids to overcome their fears. Whether they complete the whole course or not, we celebrate the success of trying.

Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center: Three days with cold, wet, 5th graders

About 130 fifth grade students, plus staff and a few sixth graders got back last night from 3 cold, mostly rainy days in the north woods of Minnesota. We had a great time, even though the weather was less than ideal for being outdoors.

My 5th graders getting ready to canoe on a cold, windy evening.

Wolf Ridge is a great place to take school groups. It’s in a beautiful setting, near Lake Superior, and the activities are excellent. I had been there once before, with a group of teachers, but never with kids. It was fun to see our Andersen students, most of whom have never been in these kind of surroundings, have such a great time, learn so much, and treat each other so well.

Many activities, such as this Ojibwe Heritage class, begin with an indoor session . . . .

. . . . and then continue outdoors. Here, students are making fire.

Teachers and students alike are invited to push themselves out of their comfort zone from time to time, but no one is forced to do anything they don’t want to do. I was so proud of my kids. They braved some brutal weather with hardly a complaint. They took on challenges that would scare most adults.

I know the impact this kind of a trip can have on young people. My daughters Emily and Lauren went up to Wolf Ridge a few times when they attended Field School in the ’90s and both still sings its praises. They each have lasting memories of those visits.

The photo below shows a couple of my girls on the climbing wall. Evelyn (near the top, in blue) was particularly impressive. She scaled the wall all the way to the top in each of the six areas — no one else came close to accomplishing this.

Neither of these girls had ever tried this before. It was quite an experience to watch them overcome their fears.

I wish every kid could go to a place like Wolf Ridge. Most of our students never get to get out of the city. Most of them have never been in any kind of wilderness area, let alone being taught about all the plants, animals and geology around them. Many of them had never been away from home overnight before. This trip was so good for so many reasons. I hope we can do it again next year. We’ll need a lot of financial help to pull it off, but we’re already working on that.

The 5th grade team of teachers, Special Ed. assistants and other staff all did an amazing job of putting this together. I also want to thank the wonderful teachers at Wolf Ridge. They are top notch and did a great job with our kids.

I loved getting to know my kids even better in this very personal way. I hope we gave them some great memories to carry with them. It was also wonderful to spend time with the other adults. We had a blast. I’ll never forget these kids, my fellow teachers, and this very special place.