Photo: Vivián canoes on the Woods House overnight

At North Country School we are grateful to call the Adirondack Park our classroom. Our wilderness campus, along with the surrounding 6-million acres of protected land, provides us with the opportunity to learn about the world, one another, and ourselves, all while surrounded by breathtaking natural wonder. This week we watched our students explore their environment and learn more about themselves while camping and paddling around our local canoe area, building forts and campfires in the nearby woods, and hiking and rafting along a 500-million year old chasm. We can’t wait to see all the adventures to come as our students continue to find their footing, carve out their own pathways, and reach new heights here in our mountain home. 


Top: Elyssa teaches 5th-grade science class. Middle: Ira draws nature observations. Bottom: Julia observes a maple leaf.

The opportunity for place-based learning at North Country School crosses all areas of study, and this week our 5th-grade students ventured out of their classroom for a hands-on lesson on scientific observation. Their teacher, Elyssa, began the class by discussing different methods we can use to record observations of the natural world. The students then moved outside to make their own independent observations in the form of drawings, measurements, written descriptions, and even poems. At the end of class each student presented their observations to their classmates, who tried to guess what their peers had observed from the data collected.

Top: Larry explains the Earth science lab activity. Middle: Joseph melts crayon wax for his lab activity. Bottom: Smashed crayons represent rocks in the Earth science lab activity.

Our older students also had the opportunity to learn by doing as they recreated different types of rocks in the rock cycle using crayons. The class first ground up the crayons into small pieces, before smashing those pieces together between two boards. The final step of the lab exercise saw each group heating their results with a candle, melting the compressed wax together. The multicolored results displayed how time, heat, and pressure form the real sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock formations all around us.


Top: Elie discusses design and materials in woodshop class. Middle 1: Salama and Cherry work on their designs in woodshop class. Middle 2: Sierra shows her students how to use a tripod. Bottom: Abigail takes a photograph.

Students in our visual arts program worked on their foundational skills this week, planning out the projects they will be completing this Fall Term. In the woodshop, Elie talked to his class about the different types of local and campus-grown hardwood they can use to create their coaster set. The students then sketched their individual designs, which can feature different color stains, mixing wood varieties, and decorative branding. In Sierra’s digital photography class, students learned how to set up a tripod, use a self timer, and work with different outdoor lighting conditions—a few of the skills that they will use as they build their photography portfolio over the next few months.

Top: Students learn about carving soapstone. Middle 1: Chiseling out a shape in the soapstone. Middle 2: Matt looks for inspiration in his soapstone. Bottom: A completed soapstone carving.

This term our Art with Volume students have the opportunity to work in a medium that is brand new to the North Country School campus—soapstone. The beautiful soapstone and carving tools were an exciting addition to our arts program, and this past week the class gathered outside to begin learning the basics of stone carving and this particular type of three-dimensional design. The finely-carved finished products will become part of the ever-changing gallery of student work displayed around our campus. 


Top: Amon and Fred take in the view at Ausable Chasm. Middle 1: 9th-graders raft in Ausable Chasm. Middle 2: Woods House students canoe on their double-overnight camping trip. Bottom: Ariana and Vivián learn how to make a campfire.

The start of the academic year is a time when many of our grade levels and residential houses take the time to bond on outdoor group trips. This past week several of our grade levels went on trips, along with the students and houseparents of Woods House. The 9th-grade class visited nearby Ausable Chasm—a sandstone chasm that was formed 500 million years ago. The group explored the trail system that weaves through this stunning geological formation, and took a raft tour along the river that winds between the sheer cliff walls.

Meanwhile, the Woods House double-overnight camping trip brought our students to the Saint Regis Canoe Area. The region, located half-an-hour from the NCS campus, is the largest wilderness canoe area in the Northeastern United States. Everyone had a great time paddling while surrounded by brilliant fall foliage, before settling in at camp for the chilly evening beside the campfire.

Top: 7th-graders build tree forts on their class trip. Middle 1: Monty works on a tree fort. Middle 1: Nadya, Adela, and Anika work on a tree fort. Bottom: The 7th-grade campfire cookout.

Our 7th-grade class also took some time away from campus and their regular academic schedule this week to participate in an immersive outdoor activity. The group traveled the short distance across the street to visit Director of Teaching and Learning Dave Steckler’s wooded property for a day of fort construction and outdoor-skill building, followed by a delicious campfire cookout. Everyone had a great time playing together in the forest and seeing the old forts built by previous 7th-grade classes, as well as getting to know their peers better outside the classroom environment.


Top: Throwing out hay for the horses in the barnyard. Middle: Brynn brings water to the animals in the barnyard. Bottom: Eggs in the collection basket.

The experiences students have at the barn, particularly during twice-daily barn chores, are an integral part of what makes the North Country School experience so special. Since our founding in 1938, students have been working alongside campus adults to make sure that our many farm creatures are safe and healthy. Each morning and afternoon, different groups of students head down to the barnyard to feed and care for agricultural animals including our chickens, sheep, and goats, along with our herd of horses. Students bring hay out to the pasture, clean and refill water troughs, top off grain bins, and collect the eggs that will become part of meals in our dining room. Our farm and garden program constantly reminds us that many hands make light work, and that caring for these animals helps cultivate the community-mindedness and compassion that exemplifies our students and alumni.

Top: Morning in the barnyard. Middle 1: Zachary, Kim, and Heqing move the turkeys. Middle 2: Koga and Fred work on their Turkey Harvest biology lab. Bottom: Colin helps Tyler with her Turkey Harvest biology lab.

Another integral part of our farm program is teaching young people about the complex cycles of life at play as food takes the journey to our plates. Sometimes that journey is one that begins with a seed and ends with the compost that will become part of next year’s nutrient-rich soil. Other life-cycle lessons are more challenging, such as the ones that involve raising the animals that will become meat we eat in our dining room.

This Wednesday, our 9th-grade cohort participated in the first on-campus animal harvest of the season, while also taking part in one of the more hands-on academic lessons of their NCS experience—Turkey Harvest and the corresponding biology lab activity. The harvest began with Barn Manager Erica gathering the students to discuss how the morning would look, making sure everyone knew they would be able to choose their level of involvement. After explaining the various stations, which include plucking, cleaning, and weighing birds, biology teacher Colin previewed what the students would see when they examined the anatomy of each bird for their lab. We were so proud of our 9th-graders, who supported each other throughout the morning while working hard and respecting these creatures that we raised for food. While Turkey Harvest was a 9th-grade only event, the larger school community will participate in our annual Chicken Harvest next week, and this earlier harvest will allow our oldest students to take on a leadership role with their younger peers.