One hundred and three students from Schoenbar Middle School have been dropped by the Coast Guard on 6 different and uninhabited islands to survive for two days.

Each of them has brought sleeping bags, cutlery, matches, foil, twine, and sheets of plastic. This is the so-called “survival trip” which occurs once a year and it has become a tradition for about 45 years.

This trip serves to prepare the middle school students for surviving and growing up in the wilderness.

Stephen Kinney, a retired educator and the initiator of this trip, says that he never believed it would become a long-term tradition. His main idea was to enable students to enjoy school by being directly involved in the process of learning.

For example, he recalls bringing a dead sea-lion to his science class when he was a student. He did that because he believed it is really hard to fully understand the theory if you don’t experience and explore nature.

When he moved to Ketchikan in 1965 to teach science at the Schoenbar Middle School, he was surprised by the ignorance of the students regarding some basic surviving skills, such as starting a fire or building a shelter.

So, eight years later, he brought a group of 8th-grade students to a survival trip to the Settlers Cove State in Ketchikan. Over the following years, more and more students, as well as teachers, joined this trip.

It is not obligatory for the students to attend this trip although the majority did.

However, those who have failed more than three classes, as well as those who have some behavioral issues aren’t allowed to attend the trip.

Living outdoors involves learning some activities like hiking, boating, fishing which could be both fun and helpful. Only the adults who attended this trip (teachers and some parent chaperones) had to access to radios and cell phones for better safety.

Jamie Karlson, a 29-year old music teacher, was the leader on Back Island. She directed her students to find shelters. They were supposed to use the techniques of finding shelters they had previously learned in class. Once they found shelters, they were allowed to play cards, gossip and enjoy the freedom of being outdoors.

Afterward, Karlson signaled them to assemble on the beach and get ready for the next task-gathering food and collecting tinder, fuel, and kindling.

On the issue of forage, students were quite unsure of what to do. They were looking for limpets (tiny marine snails) as well as for everything that looked edible.

They boiled the limpets with rice and sea lettuces and had their first meal rich in protein. The rest of the day was spent on a hand-built stretcher race, fire-building contest, more foraging, and a talent show.

Bonnie Bright, one of the students, said that she had killed a lot of things during her trip on the Back Island. She also added that she had learned how to start a fire and cook a couple of white slivers of meat.

It is really unbelievable that this “survival trip” has managed to remain a tradition for 45 years because teachers who are so committed and massively involved in the teaching process aren’t extra paid for their time spent on the trip.

According to them, students need to understand what exactly life is about. The real world is outdoors and that is where education needs to start from. That is how they will understand the theory they learn in class.


The Atlantic