Seventh-grade students proudly display two of the three awards that they won during their recent stay at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. Shown  in the front row are: Luke Schneider, Sam Sanness, Cullen Patterson, Adin Solum, George Boyd, Lauryn Bohr, Nikki Hagen and Harlee Gavin; second row: Hunter Erickson,Taylor Holty, Erin Pellowski, Hailey Dean, Brianna Cody, Claire Urell, Claire Bratland, Makenna Speltz and Vendala Parker; and third row: Zach Folstad, Lance Hegge, Austin Patterson, Kaitlyn Gross, Hannah Borreson, Chris Lamm, Elijah Pitts and Casey Otterness.
Seventh-grade students proudly display two of the three awards that they won during their recent stay at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. Shown in the front row are: Luke Schneider, Sam Sanness, Cullen Patterson, Adin Solum, George Boyd, Lauryn Bohr, Nikki Hagen and Harlee Gavin; second row: Hunter Erickson,Taylor Holty, Erin Pellowski, Hailey Dean, Brianna Cody, Claire Urell, Claire Bratland, Makenna Speltz and Vendala Parker; and third row: Zach Folstad, Lance Hegge, Austin Patterson, Kaitlyn Gross, Hannah Borreson, Chris Lamm, Elijah Pitts and Casey Otterness.
For the past 16 years, seventh-grade students from Spring Grove Public School have packed their clothes, toothbrushes and sleeping bags and headed to an outdoor environmental learning adventure at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center outside of Lanesboro. It is a trip packed with learning and a highlight of students' seventh-grade year.

Spring Grove School science teacher, Nolie Kapplinger, was instrumental in advocating for Spring Grove students to attend the residential program at Eagle Bluff.

"I had taken a summer class there (Eagle Bluff) when I found out about the residential program. I thought it was a great opportunity for our students," she explained.

"We focus on teamwork, critical thinking skills and environmental education. Through the program at Eagle Bluff, we are able to fulfill all the environmental graduation standards for this middle school age level."

Eagle Bluff offers two different residential learning programs - three days and two nights or five days and four nights. Spring Grove School students have always attended the shorter program.

The students' days are full of activities and learning. While they are at Eagle Bluff, they take four three-hour classes - Wildlife Ecology, Stream Ecology, Oneota and Trees and Keys. They also attend a Naturalist program in the evening.

The class was split into two groups this year, and one group attended the Raptor program and one attended the Cave Ecology program.

This year, they also participated in Project Teamwork and spent time on the Tree Tops Ropes Course.

When Eagle Bluff first started, they only had one ropes course. In time, they added another course that was a bit lower and easier to accommodate younger children.

Because of demand, they added a third course, which is lit so it can be used at night, and it is also built to give the climber different options on directions to go to complete the course.

"I always enjoy hearing the students' stories after they come back from 'conquering their fears' at the ropes course," Kapplinger commented.

"It's not always who you would expect that excels at this! It is so amazing to see the pride, relief and joy on their faces as they reach that last tower in the course and scream as they fly down the zip line to the end."

The students are also required to fill out a journal that is 27 pages long. They fill in information about the trip to Eagle Bluff, questions about the buildings, the four respects of Eagle Bluff and vocabulary words relating to each class they took. The journal counts as a test grade for their science class.

Awards earned by students

The learning that the students do is not only in the outdoors; they also learn that being good to the earth takes place inside. Eagle Bluff gives out three different awards to their residential program participants - Eagle Eye award, Golden Plate award and Zero Heroes award.

The Eagle Eye award began 16 years ago, and every year since its conception, Spring Grove School students have won this award.

The Eagle Eye award is won by thinking and acting "green" - being conscious of the environment. The dormitory rooms are checked regularly while the students and chaperones are out to make sure that there are no recyclables in the trash, no lights on, no windows open (during heating season), and that the water isn't running. A certain number of deductions (based on the number of students) are allowed.

"As long as we don't go below zero, we win the award," explained Kapplinger. "Recently, they have added the options where students can gain points if they pick up trash when they are outside during their classes or if they have a meal where they have no waste. Since they have added these two options, we have ended up with more points than what we started with!"

The Golden Plate award was started six years ago. Spring Grove School students have also won this award every year since it has started.

"Each school is allotted a certain amount of food waste that is considered 'acceptable' based on how many students they have. The amount of wasted food is weighed after every meal. If their final total of wasted food is less than the amount they were allotted, they win the award," Kapplinger said.

The head teacher then gets to write the school's name on that year's Golden Plate and it is displayed in the dining hall.

The Zero Heroes award also helps the students focus on unnecessary food waste. This award was begun six years ago, and Spring Grove School students have also won it every year.

"The first fall that Eagle Bluff started the Golden Plate award, the Spring Grove kids decided they didn't want to just meet the goal for the wasted food - they wanted to do better. In fact, they decided they wanted to waste ZERO food; and they did!" Kapplinger said with a smile.

"A few other schools followed this example so the Zero Heroes award was created. It isn't always easy to earn this award since they (Eagle Bluff) count even the leftover ketchup, maple syrup, cereal milk and salad dressing as food waste.

"The students learn to ask for half portions and to take smaller amounts at the salad bar. Then they can go back for more if they are still hungry. They truly learn the Eagle Bluff food motto, 'Only take what you can eat and eat what you take.'"

Each year parent chaperones accompany the students. Some are overnight chaperones and others are extra helpers with during the ropes course.

Overnight chaperones this year were Lori Patterson, Amy Gross and Karen Folstad.

Ropes course helpers were Lynn Solum, Ed Urell, Connie Urell, Bruce Hegge, Kim Holty and Cheryl Patterson.

"I enjoy getting outside with the kids and seeing them get excited about the classes," remarked Kapplinger.

"There is always a huge range of which part of the Eagle Bluff experience was their favorite, but often the favorites include the TreeTops Ropes Course and the Oneota class.

"This year the food was high on the list of favorites, also. It is very gratifying each year to see the students assimilate the ecological attitudes of mind that they have learned at Eagle Bluff into their daily lives."