Montessori College of Flagstaff middle-schoolers take academic tenting journey

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Middle school students attending the Cedar campus at the Montessori School of Flagstaff spent a few days in nature this week as part of one of the school’s annual camping trips.

All 22 students from the school spent a day and two nights at a campground in the Coconino National Forest south of Flagstaff, learning about the local environment and ways to work together in the great outdoors.

“[It’s an] An opportunity that wouldn’t necessarily exist elsewhere,” said Mark Gallo, Cedar Campus Director. “Once you have that connection to nature and to your peers, the learning environment is healthier. … Understanding where things come from and why things happen helps children this age develop a sense of connection and importance.

The great nature

Luc deWees rests in his hammock Wednesday morning before going on a hike with fellow students from the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus during a class camping trip to Lakeview Campground above Lake Mary.

camping adventure

Demi Archuleta-Willis of the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus takes a photo of his middle school classmates during a class camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.

outdoor education

outdoor education

Mark Gallo, Principal of the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus, talks to his students during a hike with a class of middle school students during a camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.

The great nature

The great nature

Ariana Torres checks out the view during a hike with her Montessori middle school students during a class camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.

The great nature

The great nature

Ransom Vaughan takes a moment to read during a Wednesday morning hike with his Montessori middle school students during a camping trip to Lakeview Campground above Lake Mary.



The great nature

The great nature

Luc deWees rests in his hammock Wednesday morning before going on a hike with fellow students from the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus during a class camping trip to Lakeview Campground above Lake Mary.



camping adventure

Demi Archuleta-Willis of the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus takes a photo of his middle school classmates during a class camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.



outdoor education

outdoor education

Mark Gallo, Principal of the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus, talks to his students during a hike with a class of middle school students during a camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.



The great nature

The great nature

Ariana Torres checks out the view during a hike with her Montessori middle school students during a class camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.



The great nature

The great nature

Ransom Vaughan takes a moment to read during a Wednesday morning hike with his Montessori middle school students during a camping trip to Lakeview Campground above Lake Mary.

The school’s curriculum is divided into five cycles, each lasting six weeks, with a seventh cycle designated as ‘immersion week’. Cycles include student-planned activities and community volunteering — which could mean helping out in the pantry or picking up trash on a nearby urban trail.

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Each cycle has a theme that alternates with the years.

This week’s trip is part of the immersion week at the end of the first cycle of the 2022-2023 school year on the theme of Connections. Two more camping trips will be held later this year, taking students to the Grand Canyon and the San Juan River with Grand Canyon Youth.



camping adventure

Demi Archuleta-Willis of the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus takes a photo of his middle school classmates during a class camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

Gallo has worked at the school for eight years, and he says these trips predate him.

The idea with the first trip is to start small and help students get acquainted with nature.

“A lot of them are camping for the first time, so we go outside and establish principles and just feel more comfortable in nature,” Gallo said.

He hoped the trip would encourage students to develop their interpersonal skills and become a “better learning community.”

“It’s an opportunity for the kids to be in nature without the external stimuli of cellphones, or even an opportunity for them to express themselves outside of their families,” he said. “Having been locked down with COVID for so long, it’s really important for this age group to be able to express themselves and act the way they want to act without the influence of siblings or parents.

He added: “It really brings everyone closer together. We become a closer community – which ultimately impacts our overall ability and willingness to learn.”

The trip also has an educational component, including a hike on the nearby Arizona Trail, water studies, and an introduction to the principles of footprinting and the abiotic and biotic factors in the local environment.

Beyond the camping experience, environmental education is part of the curriculum at Cedar campus, with students learning about the Colorado Plateau and local watersheds, and spending plenty of time outdoors — more than an hour most days, according to Gallo.

Using nature as an extension of the classroom was a key belief for Maria Montessori, the founder of Montessori pedagogy, Gallo said, which is why the school tries to incorporate outdoor learning as much as possible.



outdoor education

Mark Gallo, Principal of the Montessori School of Flagstaff Cedar Campus, talks to his students during a hike with a class of middle school students during a camping trip to Lake View Campground above Lake Mary.


Jake Bacon Arizona Daily Sun

“[We’re] trying to make a positive connection with nature,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be something that seems scary and unfamiliar, but something they always have and can get to.” Something that will always be there, especially as we fight to keep the things we want to see, some of those natural places. They see her and they want to save her and then they fight for it.”

Lessons and ideas from the journey and the first cycle of the year are brought into the next cycle, which focuses on exploration.

Gallo said he hopes students will feel “empowered” by this trip.

“[I’d like] so they understand that they are a part of something and that there is always a place where they can be themselves,” he said. ” … These things [middle-schoolers] will stay with them, and these neural pathways will harden and last for life. At this age it’s really important that it’s not just about academics, it’s about the whole child using their brains in a way that benefits them no matter what they choose to do in the future.”

He also hoped students would return to class with “more willingness and more understanding of why they’re learning these things, and be able to answer these questions for themselves.”

To learn more about the Montessori School of Flagstaff, visit flagmontessori.com.



The great nature

Ransom Vaughan takes a moment to read during a Wednesday morning hike with his Montessori middle school students during a camping trip to Lakeview Campground above Lake Mary.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun