A moose sighting, whitewater rafting, dog sledding.
Miami Country Day’s summer treks are not your typical school trips.
This year, 24 students camped their way through Alaska in two treks—one for campers entering sixth grade and higher, and the other for campers entering eighth grade and higher. The trips are part of the school’s Comprehensive Outdoor Education Program (COEP), which teaches kids how to survive in the wilderness.
That change in environment is what makes these treks so special, Renee Finny said. Finny, a chaperone, mom and teacher at the Miami Shores school, returned from her fifth one this summer.
“Some of the kids had never seen snow before; we visited a glacier. We camp the entire time. We’re doing a lot of the cooking,” Finny said. “Just experiencing things you haven’t experienced before is great.”
The first trek, June 12 to July 1, was called “Land of the Midnight Sun” because it took place during the summer solstice. The group saw humpback whales, deer, puffins and even moose.
The moose-sighting was a highlight among kids and adults, Finny said. They were walking along a path when they came across the creature.
“They knew what to do,” Finny said. The children hid behind some nearby trees until the moose left.
“You just do it because you have to. You have to problem-solve all of the time and be able to think on your feet,” she said.
Finny’s son Sean has always enjoyed being outdoors and playing outside. “I learned that when you see a moose really big, you should be careful of them,” he said.
The trip was also a way for kids to see small-town America, Finny said.
Finny, who teaches math and science to fifth-graders, was with about 10 of her former students on the trip. “I know the kids, so to be able to go out there and get to know them is fun. It’s nice to go out and experience the wonder they’re experiencing,” she said.
The group’s itinerary included whitewater rafting, walking on glaciers and visiting Denali National Park and the North Pole.
“It seems like it’s gone by so fast, but we pack a lot in,” Finny said.
Kyle Garg, 12, who attended the first trek, said dog sledding and whitewater rafting were at the top of his list.
“We got to see the puppies and learned about huskies. We learned about their speed, strength and endurance to cold weather,” Kyle said. He said the skills he learned in the COEP elective during the school year were useful for the Alaska venture.
“As I sent him off, I felt good knowing about the history of the program,” Kyle’s mom Heather Garg said. “He feels a good sense of independence about it.”
Like all of the campers, Kyle was given a camp name during the trip. His was Caribou “because I stick to a herd and they go to the snow to cool off,” he said.
Blaise Pronesti’s camp name was Bass because he loves fishing.
“For him, whitewater rafting was amazing—and he’s done it before,” Blaise’s mom Julie Pronesti said. Blaise, 12, went on the first trek after taking the COEP elective during the school year. Pronesti said the class and the trip taught him practical things, like how to start a fire and how to cook, as well as responsibility.
One of his projects required him to make a presentation. He chose to make spaghetti and meatballs from scratch, record it and present the video to the class. “I was very impressed,” she said. “I truly believe he’s learned survival skills. I think that particular project gave him pride in himself and confidence.”
COEP director Francesca Bruno, who goes by her camp name Torreya, said the kids become more independent after a COEP trip.
“It teaches them to be part of something that isn’t their family,” she said. “It gives them their own independence and teaches them how to be part of a team.”
During the seven years that Bruno has been a part of the program, she said walking on a glacier and going whale watching have been some of the coolest experiences. For some kids, it was the longest time they’d ever been away from their families.
COEP includes weekend trips during the year and about 10 summer treks that are rotated throughout the years.
Pronesti said her son Blaise preferred the summer trek over the COEP elective he took last year. “I don’t know if nice kids take COEP or if COEP makes them nice kids,” Pronesti said.