In today’s world, many young people are wrapped up in the technological maze of smart phones and other electronic gadgets. The wonders of the natural world seem to be light years away.
Teachers Steve Pacheco and Peter Doherty of Tahanto Regional High School in Boylston, Mass., are among the educators looking to reverse that trend. Since 2012, they’ve led a cross-curriculum weekend trip to the Cape Cod National Seashore, which includes lessons in history (advanced placement), English, philosophy, chemistry and biology, and art.
They’ll be visiting the Cape again this year in mid-October.
Leading up to the trips, the group researched and read many subjects and works, including Henry Beston’s “The Outermost House.”
Doherty, the English department chair at Tahanto, and Pacheco (social studies) both grew up on the Cape, but had never read the book. One day, they were playing miniature golf at Arnold’s in North Eastham, where the course has a couple of small replicas of Beston’s cottage, which he called “the Fo’castle.”
Pacheco read the book and was hooked.
"Steve said, ‘You have to read this,’” Doherty told the Banner newspaper of Worcester County in 2013. “I was kicking myself. How could I have grown up on the Cape and never read it?"
It was in 2012 that Doherty brought these activities to the attention of the Henry Beston Society, which quickly found itself involved in the annual Cape trip. In 2013, this writer ventured up to Boylston to present the “Henry Beston’s Cape Cod” program to the students. In 2014, it was a visit to Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, where the students took in a talk about Beston around a campfire.
Students follow up their experiences with video productions (such as these from 2012 and 2015) and presentations to the Tahanto school committee.
Last year, the Tahanto entourage, which included Doherty, Pacheco, science teacher Lisa Sequeira, art teacher Carol Mack, and 52 juniors and seniors, watched the “Beston’s Cape Cod” program at the Eastham Historical Society’s 1869 Schoolhouse Museum, which has partnered with the Beston Society for talks and an Outermost House exhibit. In October, 39 students and five adults will make the trip, which also includes visits to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. The students stay overnight at the Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster.
During the 2014 trip in Wellfleet, the students were given the opportunity to spend several minutes in a solitary area of the beach as darkness fell, and, through journaling, reflected on those moments alone in a natural setting, just as Beston did.
Earlier that day, within moments of their arrival on the beach, the junior and senior students “turned into four-year-olds,” noted Doherty and Pacheco. While playing “chicken” with the waves, the students were quick to note the rhythms of the incoming waves … the rolling grind of stones in the outgoing surf … the hiss of the sand and water … and the “thunder of the sea.”
“The weekend we had exploring The Great Beach and the Nauset Marsh was easily one of the best experiences I have had in my 20 years of teaching, in no small part to Beston’s work which helped prepare and inform our students’ experiences,” said Doherty after the school’s first Cape trip in 2012.
The 2016 trip is still three weeks away, but the schoolwork is already reaching from Boylston to the Outer Beach.
“The assignment was to pick a passage about the landscape or his house from Chapter 1 (“The Beach”) for both its literal and figurative / philosophical meaning, then illustrate it, and then explain it to the class,” Doherty said. “They nailed it.”
We here at the Beston Society couldn’t be happier to hear that Beston’s works and philosophies are resonating with young people — and that we had an opportunity to be part of it.
“It was an honor to have you give your time to help our kids appreciate the wonders of the outer beach through Beston’s, and now their own, eyes,” Pacheco told the Beston Society.
"We are trying to get them to see there is a connection between curriculum and real life," Doherty told the Banner in 2013. "Education today is so structured, so regimented and so tested, they are missing out on the visceral connection to what life is.
"We are trying to make that connection. We want them to see that education isn't just in the classroom. Go out and live it."
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Don Wilding is the executive director and a co-founder of the Henry Beston Society.