Learning in the wild

Mara Morrison, left, and Brooklyn Thompson perform a dance third grade students learned as part of an annual overnight expedition to Gooseberry Sept. 11. The dance fulfills part of a physical education requirement.

GOOSEBERRY — The annual Gooseberry trip celebrated its 40th year last week as third graders from Sevier and Piute counties took turns at an overnight camp.

“It’s all curriculum based,” said Chad Johnson, principal of Pahvant Elementary School in Richfield and a 28-year veteran of the trip. “For me having dinner with the parents is one of the best parts.”

Being able to interact with students and their parents in the setting of Gooseberry has a lot of benefits, Johnson said. 

However, it’s not all about socializing. Students attend a variety of classes during the two-day trip, learning about ecology, biology and other subjects.

“It doesn’t end here,” Johnson said. He said students are given assignments when they go back to school dealing with Gooseberry, including the traditional telling of the folk tale of Annie Bangs.

“They have writing assignments, and part of the curriculum is tall tales,” Johnson said. After experiencing the campfire story of Annie Bangs, plus a visit from the wild woman herself, the third graders are asked to write their own tall tales.

“When I first heard about this trip, I thought it was crazy,” said Mark Stewart, literacy coach at Pahvant. “You’re going to take a bunch of third graders up on the mountain overnight … and scare them.”

While it sounds a bit daunting, both Stewart and Johnson said the trip has been of great benefit for students through the decades.

“In all the years we’ve been coming up here, we’ve never had a major incident,” Johnson said. He said the trip also brings to mind a sense of community, as the school teams with the U.S. Forest Service, law enforcement and other agencies to make it a success each year. Even the local grocery store plays a role in making sure the trip comes together, Johnson said.

One of the goals of the trip is to utilize the natural resources that are abundant in the area as a classroom, said Mindy Barton, teacher. 

“Some of the students don’t get the opportunity to have these experiences without it,” Barton said. 

In addition to academic instruction, students are also taught about ATV and OHV safety, helmet use, fire safety as well as the “Officer Friendly” program. Officer Friendly involves a local law enforcement representative who talks to the children about dangers they may face in their everyday lives and how to deal with them.

For the past four decades, the Gooseberry education program has allowed hundreds of students the opportunity for an overnight outing and some outdoor experiences.

“For a lot of kids, it’s their memories,” said Corey Morrison, a Richfield High School teacher who accompanied a group of his students, who helped with the programming. He said the students he was with had fond memories of the trip. “The ones that moved here after the third grade were a little jealous they didn’t get to go,” Morrison said.  

A teacher who was in her first year helped propose the Gooseberry trip. Sue Southwick — who retired in 2008 — proposed the project as a way to allow children to study concepts by experiencing them in the real world in 1978.

“Children are scientists by nature,” Southwick wrote in a synopsis of the project. The Gooseberry trip eventually became the basis for her master’s degree thesis.

The project started with four classes, including those taught by Southwick, Ron Utley, LaRue Bagley and Karen Turpin. They approached the Forest Service about putting together the overnight trip, and having specialists in different environmental fields teach workshops to third grade students.

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