A Doorway to a New World

Students head into the woods
A Doorway to a New World for MS Students - Right in our Backyard

Naturalist John Muir’s famous quote is: “Between every two pines there is a doorway to a new world.” For about 30 middle school students this year, that new world was Rawson Woods and their guide, teacher Rick Meszaros.

“We’re doing an inventory of Rawson Woods,” Meszaros told his Nature Interpretation class, as he handed out compasses, measuring tape, and clipboards.
Since the Summer School and Enrichment Program started in June, the 30 students - spread over three classes - have learned tree and plant identification, bird identification, and now modified forestry practices.

The goal for the students was to use measurements and the identification processes they’d already learned to determine the dominant trees, determine if they’re native to the region, and measure their size to decide if the woods are a natural phenomenon or if they were planted on purpose. 

“What we want to know is what kind of forest this is,” Meszaros said. “We’re going to find out if it’s a special kind of place, or if it’s man-made.”

Meszaros’s second class of the day was responsible for investigating the center section of the woods. The first class had already cataloged the southern portion and the third class would hit the northern portion later. 

Outside, in the cool muggy air, the students slapped at mosquitos and shook off the quiet skepticism they’d had in the classroom.
The class, divided in two, and armed with pre-recorded bearings, the teams dipped into the shady woods. 

“Do not be afraid to walk through the woods. Your goal is to identify 10 trees,” Meszaros said. “Take a bearing, go 20 steps. It’s important that it’s random so it’s a really good sample.” 

As the second team headed further into the forest, Noah, a team 1 member, stared down at his compass.

“283 is that way,” he said. 

“Alright, let’s hit the road jack,” team member Kingstin said. 

The four students took 20 paces and stopped at a young sapling. 

They noted that the tiny tree had been damaged, and began measuring 54 inches from the ground before recording the circumference of the trunk. 

Meszaros checked in on them to answer any questions they might have. 

When he pitched the idea of offering this class, he wasn’t sure any families would sign up, but knew the lessons were important. Many students couldn’t identify a robin – one of the easiest birds to pick out with its bright red chest and yellow feet. 

Kingstin, who was recording data for his team, stopped to rattle off the birds he remembers spotting this summer: “Red-wing blackbird, robin, black-capped chickadee, mourning doves, ..." Carmin, his brother who was measuring the sapling stopped to chime in: "common yellowthroat!" Kingstin explained the students used a free app to initially identify the birds, but he remembers them all now. 

Meszaros was pleased the brothers remembered that many birds, but hopes the students this summer simply get a better appreciation for nature.

“We’re missing something. We’re not slowing down,” he said. “Hopefully after this class, every once in a while they’ll look around.”