HERMITAGE — For 32 years, Hermitage School District has given its sixth-graders what it calls “the McKeever Experience,” a weeklong field trip to McKeever Environmental Learning Center, Lake Township, in which the kids learn about the environment by walking trails, catching frogs and sticking their fingers in cool streams.
This year, school officials have decided students need a new experience.
The sixth-grader teachers and Delahunty Middle School principal Eric Trosch told the school board Monday about the change and why they would rather go to YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer in Beaver County.
McKeever Director Fran Bires said the decision was especially disappointing to him considering his wife, Nancy, a Hermitage teacher, has conducted research showing how effective McKeever’s “Sunship Earth” program has been in shaping the students’ attitudes toward the environment into their adult years.
It also discounts the influence past Hermitage teachers have had on McKeever’s offerings, Bires said.
Sixth-grade teacher Rick Stephens said the school did not offer environmental science education when it started going to McKeever. Now, class lessons are steeped in environmental science, and McKeever does not offer much new material.
Kon-O-Kwee will offer “custom-built” environmental science lessons, he said, including units on aquatic ecosystems, recycling, environmental depletion and land biomes not offered by McKeever, he said.
Because McKeever cannot house the entire sixth-grade class - about 150 students - at one time, the class is split into two with each half spending a week at McKeever while the other half stays in the classroom., Stephens said. Not a lot happens in the classroom those weeks, he said.
“We no longer have to take a week off of instructional time,” Stephens said of attending Kon-O-Kwee.
Kon-O-Kwee offers slots later in the year than McKeever, and Hermitage teachers wanted to be able to go on the field trip after Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test time. This year, they plan to attend Kon-O-Kwee May 5-7.