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The Episcopal School in North Philadelphia

Recently, the staff at St. James School has worked with Urban Blazers to provide a student-driven educational experience with each sixth grader given the opportunity to go on a small group hike in Wissahickon Park.

While Urban Blazers and St. James School maintain low adult-to-student ratios and provide freedom for students to make positive choices and explore, these hikes took it a step further. Each hike had three to four students and at least four adults with students deciding what trails to take and how fast they wanted to hike as well as where they stopped to explore and for how long.  Each group chose different trails, explored different places and learned about different areas of the park.

Group 1
Cordell, Ezekiel and Sydnee met a fisherman who let them hold the rainbow trout he had just caught; climbed through creek beds; and saw a bald eagle.

Group 2
Diamond, Ainyae, Kwymaje and Jamaal swung on a vine with Ms. Carroll; learned how to determine the age of a tree; ate stinging nettle before it became painful to touch in just a few short weeks; and hiked to a small waterfall.

Group 3
Tyrena, Marquis and Jaleika found a trail leading to horse stables; hiked to the top of “Climber’s Rock”; spent time skipping rocks; and found a frog pond.

Group 4
LaSahay, Zahkiyyah, John and Jonathon caught frogs, climbed fallen trees, made their way over the “Finger Span” and decided to spend some time cleaning up around the Devil’s Pool area.

Each group had the opportunity to hike at least six miles and be invited on a special weekend hike in the Pocono Mountains, and every group hit the mark with two groups reaching the parking lot at 5.8 miles and choosing to run a lap around Pachella Field to complete their full 6-mile goal.

ELA and sixth grade teacher Ms. Carroll, Urban Blazers Executive Director Eric Dolaway and two volunteers arrived at St. James School at 8am for their 8:30am arrival of the students only to find two of the six hikers ready to go. Tyrena, Jaleika, Diamond, Sydnee, Jonathan and Ezekiel experienced one of the most difficult and beautiful hikes in the region at Glen Onoko Falls just outside of Jim Thorpe, PA. The steep, rocky terrain was challenging but was no match for the tenacity of the St. James School Urban Blazers.

The strenuous hiking was well worth arrival at the beautiful waterfalls located all along the trail. The group had lunch overlooking the Lehigh Valley from the top of one of the waterfalls. One student was heard saying, “Wow! This is so beautiful I can’t believe that this is even real.”

So inspired and energized by the trips, the following Monday, Sydnee and Diamond asked to go on hikes in the Poconos “every weekend — okay, maybe just every other weekend.” Tyrena and Jaleika decided to take another hike in nearby East Fairmount Park the following Sunday.