Outdoor education center is 25 Arlington Echo plans open house

April 16, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

In the beginning there was an old church camp site and one heated building, but no budget or staff.

As the Anne Arundel County Board of Education's Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, a quick look around the campground tells the story of how much the site and the program have changed -- and how officials put their $300,000 budget to use.

You're invited to see it for yourself at an open house from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow. Enjoy the atmosphere, learn to identify trees and how to construct a model tree, observe basic water safety training and participate in many more activities with your children.

Located north on the south shore of the Severn River at the end of Indian Landing Road in Crownsville, the camp has bunk houses, a dining hall with a fireplace that's complete with a deer head mounted above the mantle, indoor and outdoor classrooms with roofs but no walls.

Trees have been planted by each class that's visited the overnight camp. In 25 years, more than 400,000 students, parents and teachers have participated in the program.

The school system has been using the Arlington Echo property for classes since 1968. It bought the land from the Arlington Presbyterian Church in Baltimore for about $180,000 in April 1971.

"The key to the success is that the programs are tailored for each class," says Russell J. Heyde, coordinator of outdoor education for the county public schools. "We train the teachers and parents, and they teach the children about the outdoors themselves."

At the camp, children learn by doing.

There are games designed to build students' confidence and independence. Other activities teach them how to work with others and accept responsibility. Visits may be as short as an afternoon, or an overnight trip lasting from one to four nights. These decisions are left up to the teacher.

The benefits of working together at the camp are often more than just educational.

"I had one principal call me a week after his class had been here to say he'd been out on the playground where they were playing kickball one afternoon. A little girl fell during the game, and another child came over and picked her up and dusted her off," Mr. Heyde said. "The principal told me 'That wouldn't have happened a week ago.' "

Teachers reserve the time for their classes a year in advance, and plan two sets of lessons -- for fair weather and foul. Each year, Mr. Heyde and his staff conduct surveys on the 10 most successful programs, and publish them in a pamphlet so teachers new to the experience won't have to start from scratch.

Because the children's classroom teachers are their instructors at Arlington Echo, the programs can be tailored to the students' abilities and grade levels.

"I really believe in doing," Mr. Heyde said. "It's the best way to learn. And with children, success breeds success. Here, everyone can be successful. You need leaders, and you need followers. And the program works for everyone, including special education students."

For instance, there's The Wall.

The children's task? How to get over it, of course. "Do you send the strongest person up first so he can pull others up and over? Or do you climb over each other? There are lots of decisions to be made, and somebody has to take charge. The children do it all themselves," he said.

Usually, the children are having so much fun, they don't even realize how much they're learning. Something as simple as jumping into a pile of leaves in the fall can be turned into a lesson as children later examine the types of leaves and learn about trees.

The camp is used 265 days out of the year, in wind, rain and even snow, said Mr. Heyde, who has been working there 19 years. There are weeklong music, art and computer camps, and this year there will be an adventure camp where children go on an all-day canoe trip and an overnight camping trip.

"Learning goes on all the time," Mr. Heyde said yesterday. "It's four o'clock now and some of these kids would be home playing computer games or just goofing off. Here, they're still having fun, but they're still learning, and they don't mind a bit."

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