COLORADO SPRINGS — 213 eighth-grade students at Challenger Middle School spent Tuesday outside of the classroom. The school created an alternative outdoor learning day for students to participate in after Labor Day Weekend.

“These are the students that, in sixth grade, they didn’t have a normal beginning to middle school,” said Challenger Middle School Principal, Debbie Holt.

Usually, sixth-grade students participate in an overnight field trip called High Trails, but for these eighth graders, the pandemic canceled those plans.

“They didn’t have High Trials, where they go away and camp for three nights and four days and get to build all those great relationships with their friends,” said Holt. “Instead, they were sitting behind cameras on their computers, sitting at home alone, or they were in very small groups.”

The outdoor day of learning helps make up for the traditional field trip.

“I feel like it’s really important for a day like this because, in sixth grade, you would have gone to high trails, which is something that you do as a group, and you get assigned a cabin that you can talk about anything in,” said Kevin Boska, eighth grader at Challenger Middle School.

District 20 said these trips are extremely helpful for students’ development and teach them to grow as leaders.

“Last year, they mentioned to me that they were more comfortable texting, even though the person was just across the table from them,” said Holt. “So that’s when we decided…the kids were kind of struggling with that communication with peers and they didn’t have close relationships with their peers.”

Students throughout the day participated in four problem-solving activities. The exercises build trust with one another, help the students lead teams, and work on communication skills.

“One of them is where they have to do a trust wave, so they run through a group of students that have their arms all out and they have to pull up their arms at the last minute,” said Holt. “Also, there is like a field of objects that they can’t step on, and they have to have someone else lead them through that just by calling out directions while they’re blindfolded.”

The outdoor activities did not include any forms of technology.

“You don’t have a screen in front of you where you can go and look up an answer,” said Boska. “It’s like you actually have to use your brain a little bit more than you did in past years.”

Students worked in groups of 12 to 13 to focus on the challenges at hand.

“It’s really nice to be able to hang out with people that I’m getting to know better,” said Norah Wilson, eighth grader at Challenger Middle School. “It’s really easy to recognize how nice it is to be in person again.”

Holt said she hopes these activities will help prepare students to be leaders in middle school and prepare them to start high school in 10 months.

“I think it’s going to really help us become better leaders in ways like learning how to step up and actually be a part of a team and a group,” said Boska. “It’s like the school is a big group, like you’re the team leaders of the group as eighth graders and then seventh and eighth graders follow your example.”