Students share stories of wilderness survival at John Small Elementary

Published 5:07 pm Monday, April 2, 2018

A group of elementary school students huddle in a circle around embers burning in a low fire. The sounds of insects and night sounds fill the ears and the scent of pine needles lingers in the air.

While this may sound like a description of a camping trip, in fact, this was the scene at John Small Elementary School last Thursday and Friday as fourth-graders presented wilderness survival stories for parents and classmates. All told, more than 100 parents came to see their students present stories during the two days.

These presentations of original writings from each student served as the culmination of the fourth grade’s exploration of wilderness survival through two books, the non-fiction “SAS Survival Handbook” and Gary Paulson’s Newbery Award-winning novel, “Hatchet.”

“These texts are really good,” teacher Desiree Harris said. “It’s higher level and it challenges them, but it challenges them in a way where they’re interested and not lost. … When they’re reading, they’re making connections to real life experience.”

The exercise, part of the school’s wit and wisdom curriculum, gave students background knowledge on the subject through the “SAS Survival Handbook,” allowing them to more thoroughly understand “Hatchet” protagonist Brian’s struggles to survive in the Canadian wilderness.

THE GREAT INDOORS: Each fourth grade teacher at JSE turned their classroom into a scene from the great outdoors, setting the scene for students to share their survival stories. Here, Lesly Martinez shares her story with parents and classmates in Dawn Fletcher’s classroom. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

Blending a wide range of curriculum from English and social studies to science and math, the wit and wisdom curriculum is designed to get students excited about learning, a process that has clearly worked at the school.

“We brought in a new curriculum called wit and wisdom this year,” Principal Kelly Makepeace said. “The kids have absolutely loved it. We used to have this theory that boys didn’t like to read as much as girls. But that is not the case. I don’t think we’ve put the right text in their hands.”

Speaking with two students from the fourth-grade class, Evan White and Liv Jones, both shared enthusiasm for the activity, from reading through the two books and learning new vocabulary to writing their own stories.

“It was a very intense story,” Jones said of “Hatchet.” “The author puts very good points in there, and we learned a lot of new words and vocabulary.”

While White says actually writing his narrative was a very long process, he also feels like it helped him improve as a writer. Jones shared that she could have written a book and had to scale back her writing for the project. During the lesson, the students learned about sensory details, dialogue and figurative language.

“There’s so many things you can put into these writings,” White said. “There are so many details you can put in that are pretty fun to write.”

While the survival stories may have been unique to the school, the wit and wisdom is curriculum is not. Now appearing at schools throughout Beaufort County, this curriculum will hopefully serve to create a similar sense of enthusiasm for children throughout the county.

“The work that is being done in those classrooms is incredible,” Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Phipps said. “When you walk in and you see products of student work, that’s more important than anything else. It’s happening in all of our schools and it’s a little bit different everywhere you go.”