Alone in the woods. Darkness is creeping in, and you still have to make yourself a shelter and start a fire.
Sounds like a Bear Grylls show? Actually, this is the “Trial By Fire,” the culminating activity of Survivor Science, a new class at State High. This semester-long course is available for juniors and seniors and is taught by John Donoughe.
“Throughout all my years as a teacher, this is a course I wanted to teach,” Donoughe said. Surprisingly, even though he wanted to teach it, the idea came from a different person.
Mr. McPherson, the Science Department Coordinator, recalls the day the idea was proposed. “Now, this was first proposed about two years ago,” McPherson said. “We were sitting at the meeting, and I remember saying that it would be cool to have a class where kids can go into the woods, and have this survival experience. This idea was discussed, and a lot of support came from the Director of Curriculum for grades 6-12.”
Every class is supposed to teach life lessons or something that can be used in life. But what can Survivor Science teach to the 21st-century kids? “My goal is to help kids develop self-confidence and self-reliance,” Donoughe said. “I also want to teach them leadership, followership, but most importantly integrity.”
Integrity is a big part of this class. At the end of the year, students have the choice of going through the “Trial By Fire.” The “Trial by Fire” is the final assessment of Survivor Science, so the whole semester is a preparation for this. The students have to survive one night in the woods. There are different ways that students can take the TBF.
The first one is the TBF Team Member. This is for students that have little outdoor experience before taking the course, or if they struggled to master the skills required for the TBF. Since this is a group activity, teamwork is an essential part of the experience. Students have to plan, collaborate and work with those around them. A team leader will be available for additional support, if necessary.
Students can also take the TBF Solo-Supported. This is for students who “seek the challenge of solitude but need the psychological safety net to a team” Donoughe said. The students will be near a team/team leader. The goal is for the student to complete the TBF with no assistance. A Team Leader will visually check on Solo-Supported participants several times during the TBF.
As mentioned above, one of the other ways is for the student to be a Team Leader. “In addition to the skills required for solo survival, this option requires the heart of a teacher, characteristics of leadership, and the ability to put the team before self,” Donoughe said. Team Leaders will be responsible for ensuring that everyone on the team is doing well, assist team members, and encouraging all team members to their potential. Team Leaders will also have a radio to make consultations with Mr. Donoughe, if necessary.
The last option is only for those who have demonstrated the highest competence, integrity, and desire throughout the semester. Solo survivors will be trusted to self-monitor and notify base camp via radio if any assistance is needed. This option is only for those top performers who want to pass the test of solitude and understand that loneliness and boredom can be the biggest obstacles to comfort. If you are taking the solo survivor you may have points deducted for unnecessary communication, as well as for failure to communicate when necessary.
“So far, this class keeps surprising me,” Matthew Smirnov, a senior, said. “We have a lot of plans for the future that might happen but we really don’t know yet. The teacher is also super cool too, he is fun to learn with and teaches in a way to make everything understandable. So far I really enjoy this class”.
Because the class began only this year, students are not yet sure what to fully expect from it. But one thing is certain, survival will be on the agenda.