At Loon Lake, science meets spirituality

By | October 17, 2012

Employing Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, the students searched beneath a freshly-fallen carpet of leaves covering the forest floor at Camp Tekawitha, the diocese-owned and operated camp on Loon Lake near Shawano.


A student at Holy Family School in Green Bay works her way through a confidence-building course Oct. 10 at Camp Tekawitha. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)


Using pre-determined GPS coordinates in an activity known as geocaching, the students searched under leaves and brush and at the base of trees for paper cups containing clues to their roles in developing the prayer service.

“This is a lot more fun than just sitting in a classroom reading out of a textbook,” said 11-year-old Anna Grzelak during a lunch break at the camp Oct. 11.

The geocache search and subsequent writing of the prayer service culminated three days and two nights for the Holy Family students at Camp Tekawitha, participating in a pilot project between the diocese and Brown County’s UW-Extension department aimed at helping educators to update and enhance science education.

The UW-Extension program, known as FIELDS, uses a staff of 15 environmental professionals to teach students from pre-kindergarten through college age to meet advancing standards of science education in the 21st century, said Libby Dorn, director of Brown County’s UW-Extension and director of the FIELDS program.

“FIELDS is an acronym for Field Investigations, Environmental Learning and Decision making by Students,” Dorn said.

FIELDS incorporates science education into technology and navigational skills in the outdoors.

“Students are taught to use compasses and to use hand-held GPS units. You should learn how to use a compass before using GPS technology. They are typically used together,” Dorn said.

Dorn hid paper containers throughout the Camp Tekawitha woods and took note of the coordinates for students.

“Camp Tekawitha is a wonderful place to offer science education in the environment and that’s what FIELDS is all about,” Dorn said.

The Holy Family participation is the first step in a collaborative effort between UW-Extension and the diocese, Dorn said.

“We are just gearing up our program and establishing a partnership with the Green Bay Diocese to incorporate more science education in their schools,” Dorn said. “FIELDS reflects a switch to the next generation of science education standards that all our teachers will be expected to fulfill.”

“We came here for the kids to bond as a sixth-grade class, to do some faith formation and to teach the students leadership skills while experiencing environmental education,” said Holy Family sixth grade teacher Judy Peterson. “We went through compass orienteering and geocaching using GPS technology. It went very well. We’re happy.”

Peterson said FIELDS offers a unique opportunity for science education to complement a more traditional emphasis on spirituality and teamwork building at Camp Tekawitha.

“This is nothing I could do in my classroom. I would need the woods, the environment and the staff,” Peterson said.

FIELDS also offers a unique opportunity to Camp Tekawitha, said camp director Eric Blumreich.

“We’ve been working for a couple of years now to build our outdoor education program, particularly with Catholic schools (that) historically work with other camps in northeast Wisconsin,” Blumreich said. “When we have a Catholic camp right in our backyard that the diocese runs, it only makes sense to figure out a way to offer outdoor education and to build spirituality into it.”

Blumreich said FIELDS allows the camp to offer a parallel program of leadership training and spirituality education “while not requiring us to have a staff of outdoor educators that we haven’t been able to have given our resources.”

“We have the whole package now,” Blumreich said.

He said FIELDS’ focus on the environment goes well with Camp Tekawitha’s namesake, Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Mohawk woman, who will be canonized Oct. 21 as the first Native American saint by Pope Benedict XVI. Kateri is considered by the Catholic Church to be the patroness of ecology, nature and the environment.

Related Posts

Scroll to Top