Classifieds | Place a class ad | PDF Edition | Home Delivery
By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
Last Wednesday, eighth-graders in Frankie Urquhart’s class at Schoenbar Middle School had about 20 minutes to build a shelter with visqueen, rocks and some string. They didn’t waste any time.
Students headed outside and made their way to the nearby Schoenbar Trail. Once they were a little ways down the path, some students lept into the woods and others continued on until they reached an opening in the trees.
They hiked up the hill and into the wilderness, some groups of four heading left, others to the right, but all were in search of a flat spot in between some trees to create their shelter.
Urquhart was grading them on the height of the shelter, their rock ties and if their tree spacing looked good — leading up to their final exam in exactly a week.
Emma Bowers was one student building a shelter that day. She said it went well, except there was one hole in their visqueen. It looks like there will be other obstacles in her way next Wednesday.
“I’m not so much excited about eating seafood,” Bowers said.
Their final exam takes place on May 16 when the students will have to complete the shelter-building task in an unfamiliar territory. They will have more than 20 minutes to do so — but the stakes are higher. They’ll actually have to use it.
Urquhart’s class was preparing for their upcoming survival trip, an annual spring event in Ketchikan for Schoenbar eighth-graders. There are 107 eighth-graders who will be dropped off — with some chaperones — on an undisclosed island to survive until May 18.
The island is undisclosed for a reason, according to seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Frankie Urquhart, who is organizing the event along with Mike Knight.
“We want our kids to have an experience out there to simulate this is a survival trip,” Urquhart said. “If we have people who are going out there to say ‘Hi’ or to tease them with pizzas, or that kind of thing, it disrupts their learning process.”
While there, they will forage the grounds and waters of Southeast Alaska for edible food, build shelters, and hopefully remember what they learned about paralytic shellfish poisoning and hypothermia.
They’ll be able to bring a survival can, a 12 ounce or smaller metal coffee can, filled with 22 items. Among those are matches, firestarters, a fishing line, a spoon, food, ibuprofen, soap, water flavoring and other items.
Eighth-graders also bring a survival backpack with a warm sleeping bag, visqueen, two water containers, their survival can, lifejacket, rubber boots, raincoat, rain pants, warm underlayers and much more.
What aren’t they allowed to bring? Cell phones, radios, CD players, electronic devices, tents, shovels, lanterns, guns of any kind, diving equipment, fireworks, axes, saws, chainsaws, non-prescription medicines, little brothers or sisters — or pets.
Seventh-graders must bring a lot of what the eighth-graders are required to bring — like a raincoat and rain pants — but they are allowed a tent and cooking utensils.
The eighth-graders prepare for the trip with a five-week unit, building off what they learned last year during their six-week unit for the seventh-grade camping trip. This year, 111 seventh-graders will set out on their camping trip from May 23 until May 25.
Each mass of students for each grade will be split into three gender-specific groups of girls and boys, except for chaperones. There will be some dads going with daughters and moms going with sons, according to Urquhart.
Leading up to the event, seventh-graders learn about building fires, leaving no trace, bear safety, hypothermia, compass use, how to boil water so they don’t contract Giardiasis, planning a menu for their trip and what gear to bring.
“It’s more about having fun, being safe, this is how you pack food, this is how we live outdoors without making a mess,” Urquhart said. “... That gets them ready for the eighth-grade trip if they’ve never been camping before.”
They also review first aid and CPR, and how to be safe in general while out in the woods, according Urquhart.
Planning for the trips begins in January for Urquhart, lining up the busing, boats, chaperones and teacher-leaders, who go out every year with the students.
It’s a lot of planning, and Urquhart said they try to find ways to keep the curriculum up-to-date with the latest information so the kids are aware of any changes in their environment.
“Like, for instance … sometimes with the paralytic shellfish poisoning, as they learn more about the new toxins that are coming in to our environment, there may be things that we could eat before that we can’t eat now,” Urquhart said.
Scott Walker, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, visited the school on Wednesday afternoon to talk about just that. Urquhart said the students are not allowed to eat any bivalves or snails because of PSP.
It’s coming down to the wire, as the students leave in a few short days. This week, they’re finalizing their preparations.
On Monday, their survival cans were due; and on Tuesday, the students reviewed first aid and CPR. Urquhart was out of school that day, scouting islands for the trip via boat and searching for sea cucumbers to do a demonstration on Wednesday.
She will be showing her class how to kill, gut, cook and eat sea cucumbers on Wednesday if she gathered enough sea cucumbers. If not, they’ll work on building fires outside.
Schoenbar Middle School students aren’t the only ones readying themselves for an upcoming trip. Ketchikan Charter School eighth-graders will be camping from May 23 until May 26. Allen Marine Tours has provided transportation for the students free of charge on its new landing craft.
The excursion isn’t a survival trip, but they do teach survival and what to do in various emergencies, according to Greg Gass, a teacher at KCS.
“Our focus also includes outdoor activities in order to give kids a greater understanding of our culture and unique SE experiences,” Gass said in an email to the Daily News. “Surprisingly, many kids through the years have little experience with camping, fishing and general outdoor recreation.”
The skills they’ve learned in class and ones they will acquire while camping and surviving are likely to stay with them throughout their lifetime, as will the memories. Ask Angie Jones.
Jones went on the Schoenbar Middle School survival trip in 1995 and still has some fond memories from the event. Her group survived a trip to Back Island, which is northwest of Settlers Cove State Recreational Site.
Even then, she wasn’t told what island they were going to, and neither were her parents.
“I remember as soon as we got there, we started playing capture the flag,” Jones, who lives in Washington state, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It was boys against girls, but one of the chaperones was one of my friends’ older brothers, and he completely cheated and like took their flag and ran to to our side and nobody stopped him.”
She recalls cooking limpets and having a pocket knife in her survival kit — and being dramatic on their second day of surviving.
“Everybody was just talking about how much like doritos and pizza they were going to eat when they got home, because we were so hungry after one day,” Jones laughed.
To this day, she appreciates what she learned while surviving in the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
“I’ve met people in other states that I’ve lived in that just don’t know, like even what berries not to eat or just random stuff like that, that people would have no clue about,” Jones said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I went on a survival trip when I was in eighth grade,’ and it seems so foreign to people.”