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School Stories

Grade 3: Learning Beyond the Classroom (Chief Mountain Hike)

At the beginning of each school year, Grade 3 students embark on the Chief Mountain Hike, a yearly tradition loved by many. While many know that the trip includes a three-mile round trip hike and stunning Colorado views, what they might not realize is the amount of preparation that takes place in the classroom, before and even after the student trip.
At Graland, trips are more than just a day spent away from the classroom. They are adventures that bring the subjects that students have been studying (often in several courses, through multiple lenses) to life through first-hand experiences. But the learning doesn't end here. After returning home, students are given time to process what they have encountered and express what they have learned through the creation of personal and meaningful classroom projects. 

In this case, Grade 3 students spent several weeks preparing for the Chief Mountain Hike in their social studies and art classes. "The Chief Mountain Hike serves as a kickoff for our Life Zone unit." Grade 3 Teacher Mary Helen Sheehan shared. "Before the Chief Mountain hike, students learn about the six Life Zones of Colorado (Plains, Foothills, Montane, Subalpine, Alpine, and Riparian), and we talk about hiking etiquette. After the hike, students research a particular life zone, create a Google Slideshow presentation with their research group, and make a diorama incorporating the plants and animals from their life zone." 

In art class with Ms. Andréa Crane and Ms. Sarah Baldwin students prepared for the Chief Mountain Hike by creating field guides. "Before the Chief Mountain Hike, Sarah Love (Graland's campus horticulturist) visited our classes and took the students on a nature tour of the flora around school," Ms. Crane said. "While observing, one of my students found a wild strawberry patch while another discovered some mushrooms. The students then created illustrations in their field guides, highlighting what they saw." 

During this same exercise, fellow art teacher Ms. Baldwin noticed something different and exciting in the ways that her students were approaching the project. "A meaningful observation I made was that students used their full range of senses to complete their artwork," Ms. Baldwin said. "The students observed their subjects up close, and from a variety of angles (I had one student laying under a flower bush while he was drawing), they were smelling the plants (we especially enjoyed smelling the lemon balm in the butterfly garden), and touching the textures on each plant (the milkweed was a lot of fun to feel). Experiencing their subjects in this way certainly enriched the students' artwork." 

For Ms. Crane, incorporating art into traditional curriculum is a way to make lessons more inclusive for all types of learners. "I think when you incorporate art into these broader lessons, you are able to give students another means for learning," Ms. Crane said. "Artists are observers, and these lessons allow for that. It is really wonderful to see all the different perspectives and interpretations by students when they create. Part of what I love about the projects that we've done this year (and in the past) is that they have given the students a chance to slow down, observe, and really take a moment to discover what is around them."

As with many lessons at Graland, it is the goal of the Chief Mountain Hike to teach students to "Ascende Omnem Montem" or to Climb Every Mountain and to make lasting memories while doing it. "My hope every year for this trip is for students to take away an even greater appreciation of our state and the wonderful mountains and outdoor activities it has to offer. A few students had such a great time that they drove back with their families to hike again the next weekend!" Ms. Sheehan said. 


Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.