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Outdoor Classroom

An Early Welcome to Dorr’s Natural Playground

Nursery students are introduced to Dorr when the Dorr faculty visits Horace Mann's Manhattan campus to play games and explore a natural community in nearby Central Park. Students visit Dorr for the first time in the second grade for a one-day program in late May. They spend time exploring the pond and swamp and looking for different life forms, learning how to fish, making crafts, and observing nature through sensory awareness activities. Third graders spend two days in April expanding on the Native American theme that is part of the academic curriculum. Along with making Native American crafts, the students visit a recreated Native American village and participate in activities that allow them to experience the life and culture of Native Americans in the Northeast.

The three-day fourth-grade program serves, in part, as an extension of the grades study of stream ecology and weather. The students also pursue creative writing assignments, go swimming and canoeing, work together building cooking fires and cooking for one another, and learn to use unstructured play to form friendships and create adventures. The fifth-grade uses the metaphor of a journey to assist students in exploring their relationships with one another and their experience in the Lower Division. The design incorporates reflection on the past and discussion of the present, along with journal and creative writing, astronomy, and rock climbing.

Growing Up Together

Horace Mann's sixth graders visit Dorr for three days at the start of the school year during which a year-long guidance program is initiated. Designed to enhance the transition into the Middle Division, the curriculum is carried out in homerooms throughout the year. The students engage in activities with the Dorr faculty, their homeroom teachers, and Upper Division student mentors. The program includes problem-solving games, caving, discussion groups, and activities that encourage cooperation, nurture self-esteem, and cultivate a respect for others. A similar program is offered for incoming seventh and eighth graders.

Science and the Lab

The two-day seventh-grade program is an extension of science curriculum. The program serves to engage students in field data collection and observation that bridges the gap between conceptual learning and real world application.

Easing the Transition for Eighth Graders

The longest program consists of eight days at the nature lab and is reserved for eighth-graders. It is a significant learning experience for many students because the tasks they must accomplish during their stay range from fundamental chores to making tough decisions such as finding their through the woods using map and compass in the dark, or distributing equipment equitably for a backpacking trip so that no one is overburdened. As a result, students are compelled to think carefully and responsibly in new patterns. The first four days of the program are spent creating a common experience by introducing students to problem-solving activities designed to demonstrate the effect of their actions on others. These activities include learning how to get ten people over a ten-foot wall without holding on to the sides, climbing the 45-foot cooperative adventure tower while depending on a classmate to belay them, or zipping off the tower on a 300-foot zip wire. The activities require communication, trust and cooperation. The students go through a great deal of discussing, of discarding of advice, of scoffing and admiring, of feeling first hesitant and then triumphant --- all of which are part of building a community. The last four days are spent planning and implementing a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Although two teachers accompany each of the two groups of eight to ten students, the intent of the trip is to allow the students to plan, organize, and carry out the trip as independently as possible. Ultimately, students are asked to spend time reflecting on their experience, and on how it might be relevant to other aspects of their lives and futures.

Building Lasting Memories

The Upper Division orientation is a three-day program designed to welcome students entering Horace Mann for the first time in the ninth grade. The activities introduce the students to the social and academic life of the school and provide them with an opportunity to form new friendships. Throughout the school year, Upper Division students return to Dorr with clubs and classes.

A Lesson for the Ages

The Dorr Nature Laboratory is a place where kids can be kids within a unique learning environment while rising to the occasions that present themselves. They learn the importance of community, and that a community cannot be imposed, but must grow out of experience, that it is a concomitant, not of working together and relying on one another, but a shared experience of having worked together and having relied on one another. It is the camaraderie that springs from respect and affection for one's companions. Students learn that mutual success hinges on mutual concern, and nothing less. Gaining this knowledge is one of the many rewards of time spent at Dorr, and one of the lessons students carry into the world.