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Middle school gets taste of outdoor journalism in class taught by former SNEWS editor

This past fall, middle schoolers at an Alabama middle school took part on a nine-week outdoor journalism course taught by former SNEWS senior editor Marcus Woolf. The course culminated with the students writing about their impressions of the class, which SNEWS is proud to share here, officially making the kids published reporters.

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Following the 2010 Outdoor Nation Youth Summit in New York City, the SNEWS® team set a goal of being more involved in issues related to youth participation in outdoors, wintersports and fitness. As a first step, we established the SNEWS Youth Reporting Team in August. And this fall, former senior editor Marcus Woolf volunteered to teach an outdoor journalism class for middle school students at the Tuscaloosa Magnet School in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Each Friday for nine weeks, Woolf gave the students an inside look at the life of an outdoor writer, focusing not only on the reporting aspects, but also on outdoor camping skills. On the grounds of the school, the students learned to set up shelters, cook on camp stoves, filter water and even hang food to keep it out of reach of bears. For the last session, the students wrote about their impressions of the class, and following are some of their comments:

“What I learned that was most exciting was how to hang a bear bag and how to filter water. I enjoyed hanging bear bags because you have to try a lot of times to throw it over a high branch. In order to hang a bear bag you have to attach a clip to a rope and throw it over a branch. I loved filtering water because you get to see dirty water change into clean water. “ –Olivia

“I learned a lot about the outdoors, like how to make your own tent. We also used a water filter to clear our water from dirt and other disgusting things. We even got a chance to eat food — the ice cream wasn’t the kind that can melt. It was freeze-dry ice cream.” –Jacare

“One of the things about my outdoor learning class was hanging the bear bag. When you go camping, bear bags are a good idea because the bears will eat your food. I hung the bag on a string and threw it on a tree and pulled it and wrapped the string around the tree.” –Makiya

“I liked when we filtered water and cooked food because they were fun. The way we filtered water was we took a lil’ tube thing then put it in dirty water. The tube was connected to a filter which had ceramic stuff in it that blocked the dirt. The way we cooked food was with a lil’ mini stove. We waited for a certain time, then the food was ready to eat.” –Brooke

“The best thing I learned about was the bear bag. It was fun, exciting and awesome. The first thing you have to do is put all items that have a scent into the bear bag. Then you throw the rope over a long branch from a tree. Next you clip the bear bag to the clip on the rope. You have to make sure that the bear bag is as high as it can go. I loved the bear bag because it helped me the last time I went camping and playing with my brother. Outdoor adventure is so fantastic and fun.” –Jonna

“We learned how to purify water from rivers and lakes, set up tents and make my favorite cooking food from vacuum-packed bags. One of the interesting things that we learned in this class was to set up and/or build a fire. The majority of the things we did I already knew how to do but that’s OK because as they say ‘practice makes perfect.’” –Bradley

“I have never put up a bear bag in my life. It was fun throwing it up into the tree. My favorite part was touching it to get it down. I almost hit my best friend Jonna in the head with the metal part of it. It was heavy trying to get it into the tree. I almost got it stuck in the tree when I pulled it down and it almost hit me upside of my head. Jonna then almost hit me in the head and we both started laughing.” –Madison

“What did I do every Friday afternoon this fall? I went to my Outdoor Writing club! What did we do? We had a competition that included setting up a tent, inflating sleeping pads, laying out a sleeping bag, filtering a bottle of water, and preparing the water to boil. It was a blast! My favorite activity? How to hang a bear bag! You take anything smelly — sunscreen, toothpaste, food, and put it in a bag called a ‘stuff sack’. Next you take a carabiner and attach to a rope. You throw the bag over the limb and — Presto! Bear-safe!” –Camryn

“The first time I did the food I made a mistake and ruined it. Then we got to fix soup (my team and I) and I also got to try other teams’ food. Last we got to taste freeze-dried ice cream. We also got to do a race with other teams. We got to pitch a tent, filter water and fix food. My team and I came in last, but it was fun.” –Dominique

“To me the most interesting thing was cooking freeze-dried food. I found it interesting that you could add boiled water to dry food and eat it as it is. I also liked hanging bear bags, filtering water and putting up a tent. I think the things we learned this semester will help us when we want to go camping for real.” –Stephen

“One thing I learned to do was filter water. That was easy to do. The hard part is pumping it into a bottle. The easy part about it is drinking the water afterwards. The water filter helps by cleaning out dirt and other materials like that, but this does not stop you from having viruses.” –Justin

“My favorite time was when we had a contest. We had to build a tent, filter water and blow up a sleeping pad. (Our tent kept flying away.) I also liked when we had to learn to hang our food from bears. We had to throw the rope onto the tree. Then if we had the rope on the wrong branch we would have to pull it off. But the bad part was that there was a clip at the end of the rope, and if you got hit by it…something bad would happen. But there were a lot of good things that happened like: we got to meet Mr. Woolf (he’s really nice), and we got free water bottles and stickers!” –Aaliyah

Overall, this was a very enjoyable class due to an amazing teacher, an interesting subject and all the adventures we had. For example, we hung bear bags, we set up tents, we cooked on portable camping stoves and ate a backpacker’s dinner. We also learned all the methods of purifying water. If offered again, I would definitely take it again. –Samuel

In our first class session we went over things to bring and stuff that isn’t necessary. Then we did things like cooking freeze-dried stuff. We used portable stoves, and poured water into a packet to cook it. We also filtered water. We had dirty water, then attached a water filter to a bottle and then got clean water! Overall, this class was very enjoyable.


(Special thanks to MSR, Kelty and Nalgene for donating products to the class!)