By Jacob Gaylord, Mateo Gonzales, Thomas Maiello and Brandon Raybon
As the teacher plays the drums, the students must follow by sound. During the game called Blink Drum Stalk, the leader has a drum and the other students put on blindfolds and try to follow the leader by sound. This develops sensory awareness, a skill that the Local Wilderness students work to perfect.
Steal the Keys is another sensory awareness game that the class plays. In this game, one person sits in the middle blindfolded with eyes in front of them, and the other people sit around him in a circle. The people around him try to steal the keys one at a time, trying to be quiet; if the person in the middle hears them and points to them, then they have to go back. This works on students’ ears and gets the most out of their hearing ability.
The last game students play is called Blow Darts. In the game, students aim to “shoot” people by blowing Nerf darts off of a tube. This game helps students’ eyes and reflexes to dodge.
Local Wilderness students practice sword throwing. PHOTO CREDITS: Thomas Maiello
The development of sensory awareness is a large part of the Local Wilderness class. These games allow students to build and practice their skills in order to prepare them for when they go out into the wilderness.
The Local Wilderness course helps students connect with nature in many ways. During each two-week course, students learn about fire, knives and many survival topics.
When students travel from Denali to nearby parks, they learn how to properly start, maintain and put out fires. According to Auburn University, that skill can have an important impact on other environmental factors in the area.
In addition to maintaining and putting out fires, students learn knife skills, including how to sharpen, cut, whittle and others. “A survivalist must learn and practice bushcraft knife skills in order to obtain food, shelter, and security,” the website Skilled Survivor states.
“It helps to get out in nature because it makes you feel better,” Denali freshman Justin Casillas said. For many students, being out in the fresh air gives them a change in scenery.
To many students who participate in the class, being able to spend time in the fresh air acts as a stress reliever. “Nature can help calm you and take your mind off of school,” Casillas added.
During the Local Wilderness classes, students make presentations about what they learned and research broader topics similar to what they learned in the park. Some presentations in the first round included mountain survival, desert survival and other survival topics.
Expeditions Dean Kalyn Olson explained that the Local Wilderness course “helps students engage with wilderness without the use of technology.” The half-day course gives students the experience of being out in nature while also giving them the other half of the day to be in the College Readiness course, she added.
Students are given the option of Local Wilderness or All-Day Wilderness at the beginning of the year. Ms. Olsen said that the Local Wilderness class is “perfect for people who are not comfortable yet taking the all-day Wilderness course” where students spend more time in the wilderness.
Sword throwing (left, top right) and blowgun activities help students develop sensory awareness. PHOTO CREDITS: Thomas Maiello
Local Wilderness allows kids who have after-school commitments and cannot go on overnights to still participate in seeing local parks and beaches without “doing the overnight thing,” Ms. Olson said.
Vaughan Wilkins, the Local Wilderness teacher, majored in psychology. He took the course to see how people differ from being in cities to being out in the wilderness.
At the same time, he stated that he wanted to “improve his wilderness skills,” so he took some classes to develop them. He worked for years as an outdoor educator before he started teaching Expeditions. He also began teaching snowboarding to his friends, and later he “got an actual job teaching it professionally.”
In the first round of Expeditions, Local Wilderness students learned about hazards out in the wilderness and actually went out to the wilderness to learn about them. They visited Washington Park to develop these skills.
During this round of Expeditions, students are making their own lesson plans to teach others about one wilderness survival technique. These lesson plans range from night hikes to knife skills.
“I would definitely recommend this,” Haakon Evers, a Denali freshman and a student of the Local Wilderness course, said. “I always really enjoyed going outside in the wilderness.”
Mr. Wilkins explained that, for the next two rounds, he plans to make a tool kit and go out to use it. The final round will put together everything the students have learned, and they will use this information to guide them through the job application process, creating a portfolio that shows their qualification for outdoor work.
Featured image (at the top of this post): Denali freshman Cesar Perez (left) and Expeditions teacher Vaughan Wilkins (right) practice sword throwing.