Students trek outside for learning at Sly Park

Breen, Rocklin Academy sixth-graders spend week outdoors for education
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald Correspondent
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With pine needles crunching beneath their boots and the sweet smell of Ponderosas perfuming mountain air, about 200 Rocklin sixth graders from Breen Elementary and Rocklin Academy spent the first week of November in the Eldorado National Forest. “Sly Park is awesome,” said 11-year-old Rocklin Academy student Keiko Watari. “My favorite activities so far are building shelters and hiking down to Park Creek. We were walking on such a narrow, high trail and I felt like we were so close to the edge! It was so fun getting to the creek and painting our faces with the rocks.” Sly Park Environmental Education Center provides a residential outdoor school where campers work in teams to complete challenges, hike in sun and snow, and learn to protect and manage the natural resources around them. “The Sly Park experience gives kids a chance to live in the natural environment for a week,” shared Phil Romig, Sly Park School Principal. “This allows students to learn and care about the world in which they live in a hands-on and open way. The experience also prepares them to become more self-reliant, as this is for many kids the first time they are away from home. Students who attend Sly Park will be more knowledgeable and better prepared as the future stewards of our planet.” When Ashley Pfaff and Mckenna Kmetz first eyed the twigs and tree branches available for their outdoor wilderness shelter, they looked a little skeptical. “The main beam has to be a foot taller than Ashley since she is taller than me,” said Kmetz, 11. “The tallest point of the main beam comes to about your belly button level when you lean it against the tree.” It wasn’t long before the Breen sixth graders had bear-proof living quarters. “It’s cool that you can survive when the temperature is below zero just by using branches and pine needles,” said Pfaff, 11. “Jonathan taught us how to build it the right way. The best part was covering it to keep the heat in.” Sly Park teacher Jonathan Freer named his hiking group the Ghost Walkers because of their quiet nature. “We would hope our students would never be in a survival situation where they have to use these shelters, but if they do, we’re certain these skills will help them survive,” said Freer. “These shelters have proven to enable people to survive in sub-zero weather by using natural resources they find in the woods.” The Ghost Walkers were one of eight hiking groups assigned to a credentialed Sly Park teacher who introduced students to a number of activities including star gazing, mountain climbing, and Native American traditions of work and recreation. “If you take one Manzanita leaf and put it in your mouth you might talk funny, but you won’t get thirsty on the hike to Emerald Pond,” said Mateo Perez, 11, of Rocklin Academy, who learned the Valley Miwok used Manzanita leaves to keep their mouths salivated on hot days. In one day at Sly Park students typically participate in five activities, report for scheduled kitchen duties and work on an evening skit with their cabin mates and chaperones. “I think Sly Park is a really great program because it teaches kids about science beyond the traditional classroom,” said chaperone Jordyn Pratt, 18, who also attended the outdoor school in sixth grade. “The night hike especially teaches children to go beyond their fears, such as being alone in the forest and tracking their way back to camp with just the help of the night sky.” Parent chaperone Todd Yoshida was impressed with the energetic Sly Park teachers who often go by names inspired by nature. “Granite was an incredibly enthusiastic instructor that seemed to immediately gel with the kids,” said Yoshida. “He had a tremendous passion for nature and got all the kids to try new things in order to learn. He even got me, as an adult who doesn’t care much for camping, to do a nature hike at night with no flashlight in the freezing rain and snow and realize that was my favorite activity of the week. If he had that impact on me, I can only imagine how much of an impact he had on our children.” For more information on Sly Park Education Center visit or call 916-228-2485.