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First Zane Grey Challenge

Two boys consult their macroinvertebrate charts to identify aquatic life.


October 4, 2012

A field trip with a future

LACKAWAXEN, PA — “Is this the Hudson River?” asked one student, gesturing at the Delaware River as it flowed past the Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen. That’s exactly why Port Jervis Middle School science teacher Paddy McCarthy decided to resurrect and reconfigure an academic competition that he participated in while growing up in Narrowsburg, NY and still values highly today. “These are the kids that need to get out and be challenged and recognize what we have here,” he said.

The Sullivan County Interacademic League (SCIL), during which teams matched wits in a series of educational events, left its mark on McCarthy, who still remembers having to solve problems with creative solutions while operating as a member of a team.

McCarthy reached out to National Park Service (NPS) education specialist Ingrid Peterec, who has been working with a group of Port Jervis students for the past several years. The NPS was able to provide funding for busses, enabling transport of 99 eighth-grade students.

“They’re the demographic that we want to be reaching, to make the connection that we’re here and that the river is our shared resource,” Peterec said. “It’s so hard for these schools. Funding is the stumbling block.”

McCarthy also enlisted the aid of fellow teachers Pete Kowal, Crissy Lundewall and Trisha Aumick. Collectively, they came up with challenges focused on math, English, social studies, science and art, along with a scavenger hunt meant to raise awareness of the museum grounds. “We’re trying to hit on things that the kids should know, as well as challenge them with difficult material where they need to think outside the box,” said McCarthy.

Many of the kids have never even been on the river, according to McCarthy, who secured donations from area businesses to motivate the students. “If you’re top notch and you work together and win a $60 free rafting trip, that’s special. Silver Canoe was very generous with free rafting vouchers for the winning team.” Other prizes were donated by Alice’s Wonderland, Cedar Rapids Rafting, Kittatinny Canoes, Lander’s River Trips and the NPS.

McCarthy has been focusing on team building with his students. “It’s interesting how little of those skills they have,” he said. “This will give them experiences they can draw on throughout the year. It also gives them some common ground. You don’t have to like science or be a scientist, but you’re going to have to work with people.”