TOWER- Vermilion Country School tenth-grader Stetson Dewberry grew up in Arizona, but he is certainly taking advantage of his first winter in Minnesota. He earned the distinction of being a …
TOWER- Vermilion Country School tenth-grader Stetson Dewberry grew up in Arizona, but he is certainly taking advantage of his first winter in Minnesota. He earned the distinction of being a “sub-zero hero” after sleeping outdoors in a quinzee when the temperatures dropped to minus-10 degrees F.
Stetson, along with six other VCS students, recently spent three days and two nights winter camping at the Northern Tier High Adventure Base, a camp operated by the Boy Scouts near Ely.
VCS Paraprofessional Sue Beaton said the trip was “so much fun.” While it wasn’t her first time winter camping, Beaton said she really enjoyed the opportunities offered at Northern Tier as well as the time spent with the students. Besides teaching outdoor skills, the trip was a chance for team-building and cooperative learning, she said.
Students got the chance to cross-country ski, snowshoe, sled, cook outdoors, and build snow shelters called quinzees. The students had the choice of sleeping outdoors in the quinzees they had built, or in the unheated cabins at the adventure base. And while Stetson said the night he spent in the quinzee was pretty warm, his classmates who opted for the unheated cabin said it was chilly, even in the winter camping sleeping bags.
Stetson said the outdoor sleeping arrangement included two sleeping bags, a camping bag, and tarp. Among the other sub-zero heroes was eleventh-grader Jules Schmidt and eighth-grader Alyssa Costello, who acknowledged that it was a pretty cold experience. “But the food was good,” she added.
Ninth-grader Preston Tyndall said it was really fun being outdoors all day. His grandfather owns Canoe Country Outfitters in Ely, so he is no stranger to spending time outside.
“I want to go again,” he said.
The staff at Northern Tier clearly made an impression on ninth-grader Gage Monsrud, who said he hopes to get a summer job at the base when he is older. He wouldn’t be the first VCS student to do so— Jules Schmidt worked at the base last summer.
Making life-changing impressions is part of the mission at Northern Tier. Mike Joint, the associate program director at the Scout base, said their mission is to deliver wilderness adventures that last a lifetime, as well as to provide high-quality character development to teenagers.
“You give a kid a chance to camp this time of year, something they never thought possible,” he said. “It really opens their eyes.”
Joint is a former paraprofessional at VCS and helped arrange the trip, which was provided at no cost, as part of the organization’s outreach program. While the adventure base mostly serves Scout troops, they do have a special fund, created by donors, to serve other youth.
The base provides all the winter gear, including outerwear and boots, to make sure the participants can stay warm in the winter temperatures. The base can serve up to 22 groups of teens at a time, in their 22 cabins.
“We have room on the base in the cabins in case it’s too cold to camp outdoors,” Joint said.
The Scouts stand for year-round outdoor programming, Joint said. “Our goal is to have youth having experiences in the outdoors, and not stopping when the weather gets bad.”
High Adventure has been working with VCS for several years now, offering a winter camping and a summer canoeing trip at little or no cost to the school. Joint says they hope to make these two trips an annual part of the VCS student experience.
“We are such a small charter school,” said teacher Karin Schmidt. “It’s essential that we reach out to the community and form partnerships. The fact that we can partner with Northern Tier helps us further our educational goals.”
Schmidt noted that the staff at Northern Tier has the expertise to teach students topics that expand on the curriculum offered at the school.
“We have also formed partnerships with the DNR, Lake Vermilion Soudan Underground Mine State Park, and the Laurentian Environmental Center. We are hoping to form more community partnerships,” she said, “especially in the areas of the arts and music.”
VCS is a grades 7-12 charter school that has a focus on environmental learning, so these trips are actually an outgrowth of the school’s curriculum, said Schmidt, who has participated in the outdoor adventures in past years. School staff hope that over the course of their time at VCS, most of the students will get the opportunity to take one or two of these wilderness trips.
Giants Ridge trip
VCS students’ winter fun got another boost last Friday, when they spent a day skiing at Giants Ridge. Stetson couldn’t wait to try downhill skiing for the first time. The trip was part of the school’s positive behavior incentive program, where students who are meeting academic and attendance goals are rewarded with a special field trip at the end of each quarter. This is in addition to the regularly-scheduled school-wide field trips.