Fifth-grade teachers, students and chaperones from Miami Springs Elementary School returned from their recent annual Everglades camping trip with a lot more than mosquito bites. They may have been tired once they got off the bus, but their exhausted smiles indicated that more than a few great memories were made.
Everglades National Park began in 1971 offering a three-day/two-night camping program for fifth- and sixth-grade students. From humble beginnings grew one of the largest environmental education programs in the National Park Service and the students from Miami Springs Elementary School have been participating since its inception decades ago.
“Miami Springs Elementary has been camping at Loop Road since the site first opened about 40 years ago,” said science teacher Cristina Durr. “Each year 52 fifth-grade students earn the opportunity to experience not only the beauty of the Everglades, but to also learn about the varied organisms and habitat found in the area.
Durr leads, organizes and chaperones the trip, and has done so for many years.
“Although this camping trip is available to all Florida schools, we are one of a handful that takes the yearly trip. It takes a lot of planning and time on the part of the teachers, and a great deal of help from the parent chaperones, but in the end it is worth the effort when you realize how much enjoyment and knowledge it provides for the students.”
The Everglades National Park is the first national park to be created not for the grandeur of its landscape, but for the richness of its biodiversity. It was established to protect the natural habitats of the Everglades Ecosystem. Miami Springs students were given a truly hands-on experience. Durr was accompanied by fellow fifth-grade teacher Ana Lopez along with a few lucky chaperones.
The educational trip provided many opportunities for students to engage in team work activities like preparing, serving, and cleaning up meals in addition to cleaning the bathrooms. The Skulls and Skins activity where students guessed the correct animals was a big hit, along with the visit to the 50-foot-tall observation tower at Shark Valley. The undisputed favorite was the wet hiking, a.k.a. the slough slogging. This memorable experience took the group hiking into the mysterious cypress habitat.
The tradition of camping in the Everglades has been around for many years at Miami Springs Elementary School. Durr put it best when she said, “I hope that MSE will be a part of the Loop Road camping trip forever!”
What they said
• Fifth-grade student Kaden Ovcarich: “Slough slogging and the nighttime hike and the trust walk was my favorite part. Spending time with my friends and learning about the ecosystem was a lot of fun.”
• Chaperone Thad Ovcarich: “The trip was a great educational tool for the students to truly understand the importance of the Everglades. It allowed the students to view something outside of everyday city life. I believe everyone, including myself, learned something.”
• Fifth-grader Mia Palma: “I loved the whole experience but really loved catching all the little frogs around camp, especially the one that was loose in the boy’s tent.”
• Chaperone Yvonne Cervantes: “I loved seeing the children learn and grow on this trip. For many of them it is their first experience being away from home without parents or family and first time ever camping. I felt honored to be a chaperone and would do again if I ever had the chance!”
• Fifth-grader Tony Ortiz: “This is one of the best experiences in my childhood because I went to Loop Road and went camping with my friends. I had a lot of fun doing activities like slough slogging, night hikes, the tram tour, and the ranger-led games.”
• Chaperone Katie Ortiz: “I found the camping to be far better than had anticipated. I had been a camper when I was in sixth grade and it was cool seeing from the perspective of a chaperone this time. Watching the children work together and bond was priceless.”
• Fifth-grade student Jade Jagessar: “My favorite part of the trip was when we went slough slogging. We walked through freezing cold water where alligators were nearby. We found fish, snails, a baby dragonfly, and plants. We also had fun at night telling stories. At the end of one of the scary stories Ms. Lopez jumped up and screamed and knocked down my other teacher, Ms. Durr. We all laughed so much!”
• Chaperone Louise Jagessar: “When I was a student I remember going with my sixth-grade class, and I still have very fond memories of that trip. The Everglades is a very unique place and this camping trip allows the opportunity for the students to experience the beauty while beginning to appreciate the important role they can play in helping the Everglades. My dad was a teacher many years ago at MSE. When he transferred schools he worked together with one of the rangers to start this same Everglades camping trip for the inner-city schools. My dad’s love for the Everglades has been passed down to me, and now I am happy to be able to pass it down and share this experience with my children.”