Students at Ames Elementary School headed outside Monday, April 5, for an all-school hike on nearby trails.

The hike was organized by physical education teacher Dan Campbell after recently covering units focused on hiking and camping in his class. The all-school hike included about 130 people who walked three miles on land owned by Searsmont school neighbor David Cushman, who granted access to his property.

Campbell said it has been his philosophy to provide students with “lessons that they can use in their lifelong journey of health, exercise and well being.” He feels it is now more imperative than ever to get outside because of the pandemic, as “students cannot move around the gymnasium as in prior years.”

During the camping lesson, which Campbell said was geared to elementary-age kids, students learned how to build a safe campfire, including a bed structure and positioning of the campfire, what to use as kindling, wood types that provide a steady fire, placing wood correctly for the oxygen required and to let adults start the fire.

Students also learned the importance of following guidelines for putting out the fire, to make sure there is water nearby before starting a fire and patching up the ground where a fire was made. Also included was how to cook various foods with fire, and of course, campfire stories.

“I prepared for the hike by asking land-use permission from the owners … hiking the path myself, marking the trail, and including the Belfast Police Department and Waldo County Sheriff’s Department for road crossing,” he said.

Along with exercise, Campbell said, hiking builds self-confidence, independence and encourages students’ curiosity under adult supervision. “It gives students the opportunity to explore what is along the path, look for animals, birds, insects, rocks and footprints, as well as various trees,” he said.

“This provides students with a push out of their typical comfort zone and rewards them with a sense of accomplishment. They are 'unplugged' from computer equipment and are able to enjoy nature.”

Campbell said students overwhelmingly enjoyed the hike, learning “how-to” lessons while exercising and getting some fresh air.

Fourth grade teacher Sarah Nelson said, “Not only was this experiential learning for students, but an amazing wellness activity for staff.”

Nelson said community members also joined in on the adventure, while Belfast police provided safety at road-crossing points.

Principal Lori Smail said this year Campbell has worked hard to expose students to a variety of lifelong activities they can enjoy without the use of equipment. The students have learned about physical activity and nature during physical education this year.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for the students and staff to enjoy the outdoors in our own community,” she said.

Nelson added, “What a day it was with so many coming together to make this powerful community-building experience happen! Here's to many more hikes in the future!”