Park School students experience the great outdoors at Merrowvista

Posted on

The American Youth Foundation shares its mission and values with hundreds of young participants each year through its Community and School Programs. One partner, Park School in Brookline, Massachusetts, brought its sixth graders to Merrowvista in fall 2022 as part of its Project REASON (Resource and Environmental Awareness through the Study of Nature), which introduces them to the outdoors away from their families and comfort zones.

Park School’s Liz McColloch, Grade 6 Grade Level Coordinator and French Teacher, and Emma Hobart-Sheran, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications, recently shared the sixth graders’ powerful CSP experience at Merrowvista in their school newsletter, Park Perspective. Check out an excerpt from their article below.

Merrowvista offers a full-time knowledgeable team onsite with more activities for students to choose from. With indoor and outdoor facilities, the options are limitless: rain or the rare snowflake have no chance of stopping the fun-filled trip. The program has a summer camp atmosphere and creates an intentional experience for all students to experience nature, make discoveries, and overcome fears. While there are many camps targeted at elementary and high school-aged kids, Merrowvista’s staff understand sixth graders at their core.

Upon arrival, the Merrowvista team whisks the students away for the immediate launch of collaborative, community-building games. Without exception, the sixth graders are captivated, fully locked on to the new faces, as they dive into the tasks. Park faculty are observers, taking note of student engagement.


“My favorite experience was our night walk. We didn’t bring any lights and relied on our eyes as they adjusted to the darkness. Our group leader showed us if we rubbed two quartz rocks together we would make them glow. Did you know that pirates wore eye patches so that one eye would be adjusted to the darkness when they went below deck?” Asher B., Grade 6


From the very first moment, Park teachers are there to support, and Merrowvista staff (with infinite patience) take the reins. They wait for quiet, even if it takes more time than they hoped. They don’t mind confusion but ensure that it always leads to clarification. They encourage questions. They redirect as necessary and celebrate regularly. They inspire respect and require kindness. Park students and teachers alike benefit from their modeling.

A highlight for many students is the dishwashing experience, and we swear it’s a highlight for teachers as well. While there may be some groans at the beginning, once the music starts, the fun begins. Those on the outside observe with envy as students sing and laugh with their arms up to elbows in bubbles. One lucky participant gets to use the massive sprayer – neighbors beware! And the dishes get clean!

In the afternoons, the Merrowvista staff take a well-deserved break, and Park teachers are on duty for low-key games. Students can play cards or board games, read quietly, or take to the soccer field or basketball court. Though their age shows, many teachers jump into the games, much to the students’ delight. This downtime feels as important as all of the structured activities. Students find themselves in games with new friends or trying a new sport. It can be hard to peel them away when it’s time to start setting up for dinner.


“I had never been away from my parents like that before, and some of my classmates hadn’t either. I helped my friend face his fears of being away from home after dark when we went to sleep in our cabin. We played games and told stories. Helping him overcome his fears made me realize that I could do it, too.” Harrison L, Grade 6


The final fire is steeped in tradition, one that becomes automatically inclusive for the students experiencing it for the first time. They enter quietly into a round amphitheater space with a roaring bonfire. They have been asked to prepare reflections based on the Park mission and motto.

The first two groups reflect on simplicity and sincerity. Others talk about curiosity, creativity, hard work, and joy, connecting their themes to experiences they’ve had at Merrowvista. The speakers are thoughtful and at times profound, illustrating the growth they’ve shown over two short days.

The energy then shifts for the song contest! The groups have prepared a variety of songs ranging from singalongs to silly call-and-response songs to top 10 pop hits. This year, not one but two groups managed to Rick Roll the crowd. Joy illuminates individual faces, glowing in the firelight. Giggles echo through the space as many voices become one.

Merrowvista embodies the next chapter for Project REASON’s goal: to help students connect with nature, their peers, and faculty, to create a community they would bring back to Park. The Grade 6 trip to Merrowvista lays the groundwork for upcoming trips to Washington D.C. in Grade 7, and an international trip in their final year at Park in Grade 8. These trips are the ultimate applied-learning experience and result in a deeper understanding of the world and one’s role in it.

Photos and article reprinted with permission from Park School