A Montgomery County high school teacher named Andy Leddy sent me an email about a new venture of his — a “serious fun” summer called Peripateticamp, an attempt to engage students too often bored in school. I asked him to write about it, so here is his post.
By Andy Leddy
I am a high school English teacher in Montgomery County who is increasingly dissatisfied with what I can achieve in the classroom. As a result, I’ve created a summer camp that aspires to engage students in two activities from which they have become increasingly estranged — reading and exploring the outdoors.
I came to teaching at 46, a career-changer full of the same hopes any new teacher brings to the profession.
However, in a short time I came to see that our students are not best served by our all too predictable — and often very, very boring — model of 45-minute classes per day, day in and day out. They need to move and to interact with one another in new ways and not to be penned up and kept from the riches that surround them.
Peripateticamp will begin this summer in three separate one-week sessions, from July 7-13, July 14-20, and July 21-27. In each session, I and eight students will meet daily to discuss the book we are reading, walk through the urban landscape and parklands of Washington D.C., and see exhibitions, hear talks, and discuss the world as we see it. Though there are rough timetables for each day’s walking lessons, the beauty of Peripateticamp is that we are flexible enough to adapt to what the group needs or wants to see or do.
This summer’s books are
Session 1 — “The Consolations of Philosophy” by Alain de Botton
Session 2 — “A History of the World in Six Glasses” by Tom Standage
Session 3 — “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov
I envision these texts as being best for rising high school juniors and seniors. The readings appeal to a variety of student tastes and the walking will also be a demanding part of the day!
As an inveterate hiker, runner, reader, language lover, and asker of questions, I have long wanted to be a part of a learning experience that is totally different from the walled classroom. (I have also driven colleagues and friends crazy with my grumblings for too long.)
During this year’s spring break, I drove up to Vergennes, Vermont, to visit The Walden Project, a refreshing and unique school environment. Their students attend outdoor classroom throughout the year.
If they can do that through their rough winters, we can do it here through our toughest season! Seeing The Walden Project in action finally pushed me to commit; it was the atmosphere of sharing, camaraderie, and openness that made me realize I had to try something like it.
The bottom line is that for a multitude of reasons, students are simply not taking the time to read books that are important for them to read. As an English teacher, this is very upsetting to me. It is also upsetting as a parent and as a citizen. It is absolutely crucial that our children know what we know and more. I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but everything is not going to be okay if we don’t take action to educate our children properly.
Two of my favorite books of late (and books that I think every parent and teacher should read), are “The Dumbest Generation,” by Mark Bauerlein,” and “Last Child in the Woods,” by Richard Louv. The former is not a screed against “kids today” but a thoughtful analysis of the great danger that awaits us if we allow our children to be non-readers.
The latter is a wonderful focus on what Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a wide-ranging and chronic deficiency in our youth that must be corrected.
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