GUILFORD -- For Guilford's sixth-graders, Wednesday morning included studying math in a one-room schoolhouse, building forts in the woods nearby and eating chicken curry together at Broad Brook Grange.
There were common themes in these activities: None happened inside Guilford Central School classrooms, and all were part of a special, six-day program aimed at getting students out into the community while they learn.
"It's unlike anything they've ever done," said teacher Jen Kramer, a 15-year veteran of the school. "It's unlike anything I've ever done, too."
The sixth-graders were inspired by an online "TED Talk" video in which a student describes his education -- an unconventional education in which he was pulled from the public-school system at age 9.
"We don't seem to make learning how to be healthy and happy a priority in our schools. It's separate from schools," he says in the video. "And, for some kids, it doesn't exist at all. But what if we didn't make it separate? What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy?"
The student details his "hack-schooling" program, and he emphasizes eight principles: Exercise; diet and nutrition; time in nature; contribution and service; relationships; recreation; relaxation and stress management; and religious or spiritual involvement.
With that as their guide, Guilford's students designed a program that complies with Common Core academic standards while also getting them out of the school building from Thursday of last week through the end of this week.
"We had to get the (educational) standards for the district and see which ones our project met," sixth-grader Jacob Paranto said. "If it didn't meet five, we couldn't do it."
Paranto is part of a team of students visiting farms; he hopes his photos will be incorporated into a Guilford farm cookbook. There also are teams making a video, mapping a forest trail, cooking meals and developing a theatrical performance "about Guilford during the Civil War," Kramer said.
Broad Brook Grange is the program's headquarters; a recent day's itinerary had students checking in at Guilford Central School and walking to the grange for a morning meeting, snack and orientation.
From there, they trekked to a historic, one-room schoolhouse off Carpenter Hill Road for math class before proceeding to the forest for fort-building. The kids needed no prompting to cross Broad Brook and set to work among tall pine trees; even Kramer pitched in.
"They are really working hard," she said. "When you watch them, they are so happy and alive out here."
Outdoor activities also have included community service projects such as cleanup work and removal of the invasive knotweed plant.
The students divide into teams for afternoon projects. Kramer said there is inherent value in that teamwork, no matter the venue or the time of day.
"I'm finding kids who normally didn't hang out together are getting along well," she said. "They're finding bark to waterproof their forts or deciding to build a bridge together. You see such cooperation happening."
On Wednesday morning, Paranto joked that "it's come together really well. We haven't had any fatalities or injuries yet, which is good."
On a more-serious note, he also sees value in the experience.
"I think it's a good experience to see that there are alternative ways of learning instead of the classroom setting," Paranto said. "It's kind of cool being the first sixth-grade ever to try this."
"I so appreciate that Guilford and our principal lets us take risks and try things that are new and different and might not be tried anywhere else," she said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.