The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 4, 2007



Outdoor Ed

What do you remember most from your K-8 education? Were all the lessons from your schoolbooks, or were certain teachers, or class activities important? The Carlisle Public School continues to provide students with a broad array of educational opportunities — both built into the curriculum like fine arts and foreign languages, or extra-curricular programs like math league, sports, and the after-school enrichment classes in science and engineering. It may be hard to single out which teach the most, but students long remember those activities they shared with their entire grade, such as the seventh-grade play and the sixth-grade Outdoor Education program.

Last week the sixth grade spent four days at Boston University's 700-acre Sargent Center for Outdoor Education in Hancock, New Hampshire. Teachers accompanied the sixth grade, as did Middle School Principal Paul Graseck. Students stayed in heated cabins at night, but spent most of their waking hours outdoors, rain or shine. Camp instructors led many of the exercises, designed to teach everything from science (geology, water ecology), and critical reasoning (orienteering), to civics (taking personal responsibility to reduce "Ort" — wasted food) to teamwork (at times blindfolded) and exercises to boost self-confidence (a ropes course.) The corny songs the counselors scattered though each day may not count as a significant addition to the Carlisle music curriculum, but helped set the tone, where fun was an important part of the agenda.

My daughter and her friends rated the experience between 9 and 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. Asked to describe what they liked best, the most common response was "the ropes course." All liked the food and appreciated having salad or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available as options at each lunch and dinner. They were kept very busy with structured activities, but also had time to just talk or read a book.

Proceeds from the annual Spaghetti Supper fundraiser hosted by sixth-grade parents and students go towards financing Outdoor Education. The fundraiser dates back to 1974, when the seventh grade held an Italian Dinner to help fund an Outdoor Education trip to Camp Kenwood-Evergreen in Potter's Place, New Hampshire. The next year, the program was offered instead to children in fifth and sixth grades.

The faculty have earned our thanks for their participation in this very special program. Donna Clapp, Christine Denaro, Bill Gale and Wendy Stack deserve medals for over 75 continuous hours of work supervising, educating and inspiring our children.

This scepter'd isle

As reported recently on these pages, the local kids have come up with a suggested derivation for our town name: "Carlisle: If you don't have a car, it's like living on an island."

If that doesn't deserve to be on a bumper sticker or T-shirt available at Old Home Day, I don't know what does. The island metaphor fits like a wetsuit. While Carlisle is bounded by water on only one side, it is not just any body of water, but a National Wild and Scenic River. Lacking liquid gulfs, our other shores are effectively separated from the developed parts of neighboring communities by literally thousands of acres of preserved open space. Having only a single, two-lane highway through town increases the length and complexity of travel. As a member of the Planning Board put it, while Carlisle is only about 30 minutes to everywhere, it is also 15 minutes from anywhere. There isn't even the equivalent of a ferry to "Car'isle."

Carlisle exhibits many other physical and cultural attributes of islands. By and large, folks leave town to earn their livings (often as early in the morning as any island fisherman) and to seek entertainment and goods. Much of community life is centered on the K-8 school — the Spaghetti Supper, the 7th grade play, the concerts. The kids leave town for high school, and, most of the time, leave for good after that. There isn't even one coffee shop. The lack of a public water supply system makes dense development every bit as problematic as it is on islands in Maine, or on Martha's Vineyard; and we face an equivalent shortage of work force housing. Just as islands are seasonally overrun with visitors, our causeways swell in the warmer months with throngs of brightly-colored, exotic bicyclists and ice cream tourists.

As is true of so many islands, property values (resulting in part from the unique "otherness" of this place), taxes and the costs of living and traveling to and from, have increased to a point where some long-time residents are forced to move away. Reading the Boston Globe, one might conclude that the island Carlisle most resembles is the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Inevitably this creates tension and tears the social fabric. In small societies, loss of human continuity can be devastating.

Islands, you see, have a dark side too. Social dysfunction tends to be overlooked. With the loss of just a few key leaders, island culture can lose memory and perspective, developing a corrosive, navel-gazing exceptionalism. When only the transient and the frail elderly remain, who will labor at the oars of volunteer government, answer the fire and EMT calls, plow the roads in the winter, report the stories and teach the children?

The tensions, costs, inconveniences, risks and obligations of island life still have their rewards. Returning to Carlisle from a trip away, I am invariably struck by the sheer quantity of public open space, the profound quiet, the amount and variety of wildlife and wild sounds and odors, and by the darkness of night. Particularly in summer, whether walking with the fantastic public school band on Memorial Day, paddling with friends on the Concord River at dawn, meeting up for barbecue and the cake walk on Old Home Day, or just sitting on the deck at dusk as the fireflies light up, I give thanks for the privilege of living in this little world, this other Eden, this scepter'd isle.


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2007 The Carlisle Mosquito