Middle Schoolers Build Community and Environmental Understanding

(Left) Hector Ramirez exploring a pond in Wetlands Ecology class
where students caught huge salamanders, frog eggs, a wide variety of insects, and also tested water quality.
(Right) Cuffee students during group-building games.

What do catching tadpoles and aquatic invertebrates have in common with balancing a group of young friends on a seesaw platform? They are both fun, challenging activities offered by the W. Alton Jones Environmental Education Center at the University of Rhode Island’s West Greenwich campus.

For the sixth consecutive year, Paul Cuffee seventh graders enjoyed the great privilege of visiting the Alton Jones campus for a two-day overnight field trip. The trip supported the seventh grade essential question, What makes a sustainable community? and taught students “about teamwork and having fun in nature,” according to student Rachel Meus.

Last month, students and staff piled into school buses wearing sporty shoes and clutching sleeping bags to unroll in the cabins. Despite an early spring chill, we spent most of the time outdoors playing group-building games that demanded effective communication and problem-solving, as well as exploring wetlands, an archaeological dig site, and the power of our own senses on a night hike through the woods (no flashlights allowed!). We were delighted by the field instructors’ humor and knowledge—and also the delicious and bountiful food prepared by the kitchen staff. We ate family-style around long tables and separated compostable waste and other food scraps from trash during clean-up.

For some students, this was their very first time spending the night away from home and it offered a tremendous chance to become more independent. “This trip [required] lots of responsibility,” noted Luis Perdomo. Shantae Makayla-Vera reflected, “I learned to just get out of my comfort zone and to experience things I have never done before.” Brandon Khamsomphou added, “I learned that to have a good group or team you have to have communication, trust, and be open to ideas.”

Many students were thrilled to observe a local ecosystem at such a special time of year. Maryann Sourivong remarked, “At the pond, there were many new organisms I saw, and I didn’t even know they were alive. Like spring itself, the pond was bubbling.” The formative experience has inspired other students to enroll in the Alton Jones summer camps for teens. Certainly, many memories were made at Alton Jones and will not soon be forgotten!

by Ariana Wohl, 7th Grade Humanities Teacher


Average Class Size: 20
Current Enrollment: 820
Students of Color: 96%
Female Students: 51%
Male Students: 49%
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligibility: 82%
Multi-Language Learners: 19%
Students Receiving Special Education Services: 13%
Total Employees: 168
BIPOC: 45%
Female Employees: 75%
Male Employees: 25%