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Eighth-graders bid adieu to the wild: Survival trip deemed a success
A group of eighth-grade girls leaves the Tatoosh Islands on May 18. The group had to take skiffs from the island and then transfer everyone onto a large boat that was sitting behind the large rocks. The water was too shallow for the large vessel to come in any further. The camping trip was held from May 16 to May 18. Photo courtesy of Frankie Urquhart

Daily News Staff Writer

They were tasked with surviving on remote shorelines from May 16 to May 18 and they did it.

Eighth-graders from Schoenbar Middle School and some chaperones were dispersed across Back Island, North Betton Island, Black Sands Beach, Bold Island, the Blank Islands and the Tatoosh Islands for the annual spring survival trip.

“Many students practiced the skills that they were taught during the survival unit and many chaperones reported that these groups that went out were some of the best we have taken,” wrote seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Frankie Urquhart in an email to the Daily News.

Urquhart organized the event along with Mike Knight. She said overall, the 107 eighth-graders were a great group and the weather was “pretty darned flawless.” In fact, the days they were on the trip were mostly sunny and free of too many clouds — which aided in their food scavenging.

The science teacher said that having the sun out the entire time made getting up early to harvest sea critters off the beach easier.

Eighth-grader Sandra Johnston said when her group first got to the Tatoosh Islands, which are northwest of Clover Pass, they went on to the beach and began looking for food.

“We found this little back-island paradise,” Johnston said. “There was a bunch of sea asparagus so we had a little buffet there.”

After that lovely spread of food, the group picked out their camping grounds. With the help of Urquhart, they built their shelter and found more food for dinner. Johnston said they had limpets and rice their first night, which she said tasted exactly like chicken noodle soup.

Surviving? That was no big deal to Johnston.

“It was actually easier than I thought,” she said. “We did try out some sea cucumbers, which I thought were surprisingly good. I didn’t think it’d be good at all.”

Even though she thought their scavenged food was good, there were some things that were even better that she was looking forward to when she got back to Ketchikan. She was longing for a nice warm shower, among other things.

“First thing I did when I got home was went to a restaurant and got a giant steak. I was hungry,” Johnston laughed. “I went to The Landing. It was really nice, I had a milkshake too. I was craving good, delicious food.”

Overall, she said she had a great survival trip. Johnston added they had a talent show to keep busy and happy, and there were a bunch of fun skits.

Jerzey Bell, an eighth-grader, was one student who participated in the talent show. Bell carved some wood and made a bow and arrows. She used fishing line for the string and a bendable stick for the bow.

For the arrows, she found sticks and carved the bark off and sharpened them. Although she didn’t use the bow hunt, she was able to show her classmates what she had made at the talent show.

The most challenging part of the trip for Bell was sleeping. She and her partner set up their two tarps over a mossy area so that their beds would be more cushioned, but there roots in the way. That, and the ground was slanted uphill and “very uncomfortable,” according to Bell.

Bell slept good the first night, but she barely slept the second. She wasn’t feeling well and woke up at 4 a.m. and was up for the rest of the day. It seems to be a miracle that she even slept at all.

“I couldn’t breathe whenever I slept because my nose was all stuffed so I had to wake up and I had to sit up to breathe again,” Bell said.

Bell and Johnston were both in Urquhart’s group on the Tatoosh Islands, and so was eighth-grader Hayley Gilson.

Gilson said the trip was fun overall, and it helped to have Urquhart as their leader.

“She was able to … critique us on things and make sure we knew what it was like,” Gilson said. “She wanted to make sure that all of us would get a chance to ... try new foods.”

Gilson noted that Urquhart told them they were a great group because they were willing to try new foods. They had gumboot, limpets, sea cucumbers, seaweeds and kelp. Gilson said the survival trip is a good opportunity for students her age.

“It’s really easy to survive,” Gilson said. “I learned a lot of good skills that I can use in my life when I get older. If I’m ever on a boat and then I get stranded; or if I ever want to teach my kids that you can eat this and you cannot eat that. … If this program keeps (going), it will be good for my kids and everyone in my family.”

Urquhart wrote in an email to the Daily News that she believes her eighth-graders gained confidence from knowing that — should they ever be in a survival situation —  they would know what to eat, how to make a shelter and how to survive until they were rescued.

“A lot of students are very nervous before we go out on these trips and it is pretty awesome to see them walk a little taller and prouder once we return from the trips, knowing that they were able to accomplish so much out there on their own,” Urquhart wrote.