Photo: Improv theater class meets outside.

Nature is our master teacher at North Country School, and this week our students and teachers could be found exploring and learning around our mountain campus during academic classes, art classes, afternoon out-times, and weekend trips. Oftentimes the natural world around us provides a place to gain hands-on knowledge, as was the case while our 9th-grade biology students took morning outings to seek out and identify birds around our campus. Other times, moving outside simply provides a change of scenery and new space to be creative and laugh together, like it did during our 7th-graders’ improv theater class. As we progress through the Spring Term we look forward to watching our students enjoying the many green spaces around our campus. Though most of the 2020-21 academic year is now behind us, we know there are countless fun, thoughtful, creative, and adventurous moments still to come. 


Top: Biology class goes birding. Middle: Ella and Azalech identify birds. Bottom: Josh and Arden look at birds. 

Though there is still cold and snow in the forecast, many of our academic classes took advantage of the warm, sunny weather this past week to move outdoors and hold lessons around our beautiful 220-acre campus classroom. In Colin’s 9th-grade biology class, students have been learning about Carl Linneaus’s taxonomic classification of living organisms, and this past week they continued to study how to use this system with some real-world observation. The class met up early in the morning to go birding on our campus trails and by our ponds, identifying different species and recording data about their observations. Students were able to see and identify several local birds including some waterfowl and woodpecker species. 

Top: 4th-grade science class meets outside. Middle: 7th-grade math class meets outside. Bottom: Will does math work outside.

Many of our other academic classes also took place outside this week, with our 4th-grade science class meeting on the Upper Field to learn about heart and respiration rates. The group learned how to take their pulses and track their respiration rates before recording and compare their vital signs in three scenarios: at rest, after light exercise, and after full exertion. Max’s 7th-grade math class also spent time enjoying the outdoors when they settled in to their lessons in the Garden Pasture under a sunlit view of Cascade Mountain. We feel lucky to have so many beautiful spaces for learning on the North Country School campus, and look forward to seeing more and more classes engaging in learning while taking in the fresh air and sunshine.


Top: Katie teaches collage outside. Middle 1: Liz takes photos around campus. Middle 2: Students work on the treehouse. Middle 3: Improv class plays a game outside. Bottom: Jennifer and Liz watch an improv game outside.

There is no better backdrop for our art classes than the Adirondack Park, and this week our studio and performing arts students moved outdoors and spread out as they gleaned inspiration from the natural world. In Katie’s studio art class students worked on their collage and weaving projects while listening to the sounds of wood frogs and peepers in the nearby Frog Pond, while Sierra’s photography students learned about composition, symmetry, the Rule of Thirds, and natural framing on locations all around campus. One afternoon out-time invited students to venture onto our campus trails to continue work on the new treehouse, while Courtney’s improv class embraced silliness as they participated in theater games in the grassy clearing behind Woods House.  


Top: Jess explains the Outdoor Leadership class activity to the 4th-grade class. Middle 1: Nate and Josh teach 4th-grade students about cardinal directions. Middle 2: Students learn how to use a compass. Bottom: Inyene helps Raia and Alea use a compass. 

The NCS Outdoor Leadership Program doesn’t just challenge our students to expand their own knowledge and understanding of the outdoors in order to interact with nature in a safe and thoughtful way, it also provides students with the skills to help bring that knowledge to others. This past week the 8th- and 9th-grade students in our Outdoor Leadership class led a lesson on map-and-compass skills with our 4th-grade science students, who learned about maps earlier in the term as part of a lesson discussing the Earth’s topography. The two groups met on the Upper Field, where the Outdoor Leadership students refreshed the 4th-grade class on the basics of cardinal directions before showing them how to use a compass to navigate terrain. The older students then led their younger pupils through an originally designed course using directional points and degrees on the compass to find their way.

Top: Students help work on the Ski Hill tow rope. Middle: Lilly, Mia, and Jennifer paddle on Round Lake. Bottom: Students relax on Balanced Rocks.

Some of our outdoor spaces around campus are filled with activity during certain seasons and left quiet during others, but the Ski Hill is a spot that sees student-visitors even after we have put most of our winter gear away for the year. The Ski Hill and surrounding trails are great places to simply walk and take in some mountain views, but this past week we saw students visiting the spot to lend a hand fixing the hill’s tow rope. It was a good reminder that some of our outdoor time can be working on larger community projects, as well as playing and having fun with one another. 

This week students also visited a few spots on and around campus that see much more activity after the ice has thawed—Round Lake and Balanced Rocks. Each year we look forward to bringing out canoes and kayaks once the ice is fully melted on the lake, and putting on our T-shirts and sunglasses for hikes up to Balanced Rocks’ incredible viewpoint once the trail is no longer covered in slick ice and snow. 


Top: Ira eats some farm spinach. Middle: Sophie asks a question at the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) presentation. Bottom: A slide from the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) presentation.

The NCS farm and gardens provide plenty of opportunities for our students to learn, grow, and explore—not to mention taste—the world around them.  We love watching their eyes widen and smiles spread as they expand their understanding of local food systems, but we also know the value of expanding that learning beyond our Adirondack campus and in bringing our farm resources to others. 

This past week, after a few exciting lessons about greenhouse growing and harvesting, our lower cohort of 4th- through 7th-grade students hosted a virtual visit with a guest from outside the North Country School community. Liz Collin joined us from the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) over Zoom as part of a cross-curricular lesson between our Edible Schoolyard and social studies program to talk about Indigenous food and foraging traditions. Liz spoke to the students about how to make cedar tea using local white cedar boughs and maple syrup; introduced food-related vocabulary words in the Dakota and Anishinaabe languages; and discussed the importance of revitalizing Native American foodways. After an engaging presentation, our students had the opportunity to offer their thoughts and ask questions, and we were proud of all the insight and enthusiasm they brought to the conversation. 

Top: Erica shows the students from Kensington School our farm. Middle 1: Elie Zooms with Erica and the Kensington School. Middle 2: Erica shows Kensington School students a turkey chick. Bottom: Our farm turkey chicks.

We were also excited to bring all that our farm and garden has to offer to those outside campus this week, with a collaborative lesson between North Country School and the Kensington International School in Massachusetts. On Tuesday, Edible Schoolyard instructor Elie and Barn Manager Erica met down in the barnyard to welcome a group of first-grade ESL students from Kensington to our farm via Zoom. Elie and Erica joined Kensington teacher Rob to bring some real-world experience to the class’s unit focusing on how animals change and grow over time. Rob has been working with his students on vocabulary words including nest, egg, and hatch, and Erica invited the class into the chicken coop to see our flock’s nesting boxes, to show them a freshly laid egg, and to explain how an egg can hatch a new chick if it is fertilized. The class then moved into the barn office to visit our new baby chicks. Even over Zoom the students’ excitement at seeing the cute tiny birds was evident, and we loved seeing everyone’s smiling faces through our screens. 

Collaborative programs like those with the Kensington School and NāTIFS have long been a central part of the North Country School and Camp Treetops philosophy, and though we’ve truly missed being able to work together in person with other organizations and institutions, we are grateful for the ways we’ve been able to change and adapt to the current circumstances while not losing this special part of the NCS/CTT experience. 

Check back next week to see what we’re up to on our mountain campus.