“I realized how important nature is to our lives and how it can help us bond with each other,” William Pietrzak (6) said. “This trip made me much closer to all my advisory classmates.”
Pietrzak belonged to the first group of students to participate in the new sixth grade John Dorr Nature Laboratory (Dorr) program. The updated program, which began this week, condenses the previous three-day program into just one day.
The program aims to make sixth-grade students more comfortable within their community, just as it had before the pandemic. “The more meaningful, purposeful work a group needs to accomplish, the tighter they become,” DePreter said.
In previous years, sixth graders typically visited Dorr for three days during late August to complete various initiatives and challenges with their new advisory classmates before the school year started. However, this structure had to be reconsidered due to COVID-19, Dorr teacher Jackie Ricca said. This year, to introduce new sixth graders to their peers and the division, the Dorr faculty hosted a one-day Zoom orientation for the students during August, in place of the old program.
Nonetheless, the faculty believed that visiting Dorr in person would be critical for students to connect with the outdoors and form bonds with peers outside of the typical classroom setting, Ricca said. The only way to accomplish this goal with COVID-19 restrictions in place would be to decrease the length of the program to only one day, she said.
As a result of the shortened amount of time, the Dorr faculty created an entirely new curriculum, with changes in all of the activities. The activities were also modified to compensate for the weather at this time of the year.
For example, the students will no longer build and test rafts in the pond, as has been the tradition at sixth grade Dorr for many years. Instead, they take part in a nature photo scavenger hunt. Other activities include a challenge on Dorr’s Adventure Treehouse structure and a scavenger hunt intended to teach students to think creatively and strategically while working together, Assistant Director of Dorr Kate Kerrick said.
The activities and challenges offer students the chance to build community and learn teamwork, Ricca said. The program is a unique chance for students to reconnect, Kerrick said. “As this time is outside of the normal routine, it allows students to get a different perspective on their peers, their homeroom and themselves,” Kerrick said. At Dorr, the sixth graders reaffirm community norms and values and strengthen their bonds with one another, Ricca said.
For Dilan Shah (6), who went to Dorr this week, climbing the Adventure Treehouse was one of his favorite experiences from the trip to Dorr. “It was also fun to play tag with my friends during free time,” he said. In addition to bonding with his friends, Shah learned about building teamwork and community.
Even though the new sixth grade Dorr trip is shorter than in previous years, the activities planned still make for a day of fun, Director of Dorr Nick DePreter said. “The fires they use for Dorr’mores, the scavenger hunt, and the high ropes courses all add up to an amazing day for the 6th-grade students.”
Pietrzak enjoyed the challenge of moving a ball from one side of an obstacle course to the other, he said. All of the students had to stand still while they tried to pass a ball around, without allowing the ball to touch the ground, he said.
Pietrzak also learned about Beauty and Order, the Dorr tradition in which students work together to contribute to the upkeep of the Dorr campus. Pietrzak cleaned the bathrooms and floors of the lodge and helped to prepare utensils and napkins for lunch, he said.
The Dorr faculty are still unsure of what the sixth grade program might look like in future years, but they are willing to stay flexible and accommodating, Ricca said. “[The Dorr staff] hope to hold the program in August next school year too,” she said.
DePreter and Kerrick led the creation of the program, and had the Dorr faculty come up with creative solutions to adapt to all the new circumstances, Ricca said. “The Dorr faculty have been amazing in using creative thoughts and ideas to figure out how to make programs work and keep having students up [at Dorr].”
Although COVID-19 forced this particular adjustment in the sixth grade program, the concept of change is not an entirely new idea at Dorr. “We always have changes at Dorr. It is a growing place where everyone is welcome to add their own enthusiasm to the spirit of Dorr and push our mission forward,” DePreter said. “It’s an exciting time to be at Dorr.”