Echo Hill Outdoor School Welcomes Kent County 5th Graders by Doug Carter

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With every Kent County school bus that rolls onto a field at the end of Bloomingneck Road, another group of fifth graders bounces into the world of Echo Hill Outdoor School (EHOS). The students, visiting for a one-day orientation to the school’s campus, curriculum, and residential program, are preparing for a three-day experience they will have there with one another in the fall.

Designed to acclimate these students to the environment and lifestyle at EHOS, this orientation day is part of a three-year progression of Kent County Public School trips to Echo Hill for 5th, 6th, and 7th graders. As these students from Galena, Garnett, Millington, Rock Hall, and Worton Elementary Schools prepare for their transition to Kent County Middle School, this is the first time they go on a field trip as a cohesive group.

After a series of all-inclusive games to break the ice, the students gather around Assistant Director Deb Grigsby and wait to be divided into twelve “tribes.” Each tribe brings students from multiple schools together with an Echo Hill teacher who leads them in games designed to introduce new team members and build camaraderie among them from the ground up.

In addition to exploring the EHOS tent areas, Chesapeake Bay waterfront, wooded trails, and Adventure Course, the students receive a brief introduction to classes they might experience when they return later this year. Among them are Sensory Exploration of the Environment (S.E.E.), Bay Studies, and Adventure I, which entails activities and low-ropes challenges that foster leadership and team-building skills. Specific to Kent County, the diverse faculty at EHOS also weave into their standard class planning the Six Pillars of Character taught back in the public school classroom through Character Counts: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

At lunch, the fifth graders bond with future classmates over hot turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, snap peas, and cranberry sauce, all served them family-style by a teacher who heads the table—a hallmark feature of Echo Hill’s residential philosophy. This sense of hospitality, distinct in custom program design and positive social interaction with adults, gives students and visiting teachers a taste of what can be expected for their upcoming, more extended stay.

As the day winds down, all twelve tribes regroup on the field where they met this morning. No longer strangers, the entire fifth grade of Kent County has given up on scanning the group for neighbors from the bus stop and desks next door. Having made connections with one another and a new piece of their backyard, they huddle close together as one collective tribe. Associate Director Betsy McCown stages these rising sixth graders for their first group photo, and they do whatever they can to squeeze into the range of the camera’s lens. Five sets of bus doors swing open. The field erupts with cheers, hugs, and high fives. Filled with enthusiasm for the upcoming school year’s EHOS program, the students step back onto their buses, plop themselves on vinyl seats, and wave to new friends through the windows as each bus hauls itself away.

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