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Milestones & Memories: Overnight Trips at FernLeaf

Updated: Jan 10

ALL Students at FernLeaf participate in an Overnight Opportunity EVERY YEAR! An important part of FernLeaf's mission is to help students grow in numerous ways beyond just academics, and multi day overnight trips/fieldwork experiences are an important part of this.  Overnights simply help students to love school, and contribute to a rich and meaningful life! You can learn more about Overnights at FernLeaf as well as the other FernLeaf Signature Programs HERE.

Can you recall the first time you spent the night away from home? No parents, no siblings, no familiar surroundings? For many of us, it’s a milestone memory that remains for years and research explains some of the reasons for such a long-lasting impact, which I’ll get back to in a moment.

FernLeaf is a school that can be described as a place where the educational experience is much more than academics. Yes, academics are certainly core to the overarching educational framework and at FernLeaf, students are challenged through a rigorous, active and engaging academic environment.  However, in addition to the learning that takes place through classroom instruction (both inside and outdoor), there’s another rich learning environment that FernLeaf strongly believes is just as vital to the overall development and well-being of the student: the overnight fieldwork environment. 

Each year, in addition to a minimum of 8 fieldwork learning opportunities, every grade level is provided the opportunity to experience an overnight stay away from home. The experience is tailored to the grade level and learning component. For example, as a Kindergartner, the overnight is technically a "late over" spent on campus in classrooms where a variety of fun, learning activities are planned and, weather permitting, a campfire is prepared for story-telling while marshmallows are roasting to fill yummy smores! From 2nd grade through the latter elementary grades and beyond into middle and high school, the experience is off campus, ranging in location from nearby to anywhere along the east coast, north to south. 

The overnights range from 1 to 5 nights, depending on the grade level. The trips are planned in consideration of the developmental stage of the students and educational focus. This fieldwork is just as important as any other component of the overall educational experience at FernLeaf. It has been an annual tradition established from the inception of FernLeaf and with the exception of the period during the pandemic when students were attending school virtually, overnights have been a part of every year. Last year the overnights were reintroduced after the pandemic pause.

Here are some great examples of overnight trips from the 2022-2023 school year.

The 3rd Grade took a 2-day, 1 night trip to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN for an unbelievable adventure to Sleep With the Sharks! Talk about an amazing way to learn all about sharks and other creatures of the sea. Students enjoyed a scavenger hunt along with other interactive activities before curling up in their sleeping bags for a good night's sleep under the watchful eyes of the sharks. Read a blog post about our 3rd Grade Trip HERE!

The 6th Grade traveled to the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain for a 4-day, 3 night stay where they were housed in the historical landmark Eureka Hall in a dorm-like setting. This overnight fieldwork focused on team-building and cultural components of the region. Students stretched the boundaries of their comfort zones to tackle both low and high ropes courses. By doing so, some realized they were capable of doing something they couldn’t have imagined. On other days there was a class on candle making, learning new skills on the archery range, hiking and so much more. Each day was filled with activities from sunup to sundown, which made for some good nights of sleep.  

The 9th Grade traveled to Washington, DC for a fun-filled, educational adventure over the course of 3 days. The days were packed with mini-trips to the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum; Washington Monument, Museums of Natural and American History, National Gallery of Art, Holocaust Museum, National Zoo and Arlington Cemetery. Talk about taking in the sites while soaking up a lot of history. Read a blog post about the 9th Grade trip HERE.

Why do these experiences away from home have such a long-lasting impact and why does FernLeaf maintain a strong belief in the value they serve in the overall development of students? Read on!

Time away from home and the normal day-to-day school environment is intentional. It’s considered a vital component of the planned curriculum because research shows that kids who attend overnights experience positive development in self-confidence, social integration and emotional intelligence such as empathy. The time away from family and familiar surroundings provide a boost in self-esteem, especially once they clear any hurdles of apprehension about a first time away, which is very common.

When a student has the opportunity to experience and build on these foundational interpersonal and social skills, they will continue to draw on the feeling of self-confidence as they go through life. From another perspective, by having these experiences beginning at an early age, students will have a strong foundation from which they can build upon; the value from which will give them a reference of strategies they can use as they grow into the upper grades where they will experience a progression of more advanced challenges socially, emotionally and academically. 

The benefits of the FernLeaf overnight fieldwork opportunities are not as easily measured as areas of a student’s academic development but the positive impact toward future success are invaluable. As a staff member who has participated in overnight fieldwork, I can personally attest to the transformative nature of these experiences. What I have witnessed, experienced and learned from the opportunities to spend time with students in an environment where we are totally immersed in the experience, absent the typical daily distractions, has left me with a lasting impact. 

As a trusted partner in your students’ education, we want families to know that safety and the quality of the educational experience are the guiding principles through which FernLeaf staff lead every fieldwork experience.

The tradition of the FernLeaf overnights have, for many students, become a Rite of Passage of sorts. They look forward to it. They learn and grow from it. For many, it will be their first in their journey of milestone memories. 

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