Wolf Ridge: Educational and life lessons for grade-schoolers

Last week I spent 3 days with 100 fifth-graders at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota, a few miles from the north shore of Lake Superior. I’m a teacher at Andersen United Community School in Minneapolis.

My school has had a tradition of taking students to Wolf Ridge — since well before my arrival four years ago. Anyone who has ever been there knows what a wonderful experience this is. I hope these photos convey some of that.

Wolf Ridge is located in a stunningly beautiful setting.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateWolf Ridge is located in a stunningly beautiful setting.

Our students always have a great time at Wolf Ridge. There’s intensive instruction in various sciences. They also learn a lot about themselves. The climbing wall and the ropes course are “challenge by choice” activities, but most kids give it their best effort and it almost always results in a positive and memorable experience — physically, emotionally, and sometimes even spiritually.

High ropes course tests everyone.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateHigh ropes course tests everyone.

None of these girls had ever done this before. They climbed like spiders.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateNone of these girls had ever done this before. They climbed like spiders.

Nearly all of our students qualify for free lunch, which is the usual measure of poverty in the school system. Wolf Ridge likes having us up there every year, for this very reason — few schools with our high percentage of families in poverty are able make their way to Wolf Ridge. Schools with higher-income families can more easily pay their way or provide scholarships for those who can’t pay. Andersen teachers have raised the nearly $25,000 it takes to send our 5th graders every year mostly by writing grants and soliciting individual contributions.

Canoeing on Wolf Lake.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateCanoeing on Wolf Lake.

Oddly enough, students love KP duty.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateOddly enough, students love KP duty.

We are extremely grateful to those organizations and people who have supported us over the years. I am personally thankful to the teachers I’ve teamed with who have spent countless of their own time each year to write the grants and procure other funding sources to make this possible. I hope we can do it again next year, but the money always seems to be touch-and-go until the very end.

Ojibwe heritage class provides hands-on experience with the ways of native cultures of Minnesota.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateOjibwe heritage class provides hands-on experience with the ways of native cultures of Minnesota.

Making a basket out of black ash strips.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateMaking a basket out of black ash strips.

Cleaning up after making a fire and cooking wild rice.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateCleaning up after making a fire and cooking wild rice.

Many of our students have never been to the north woods, never been in a canoe, climbed a rock wall or experienced what life was like for native cultures of Minnesota. They’ve never studied birds or wetlands or been challenged to walk across a cable 25 or 30 feet above the ground.


MinnPost photo by Steve Date

These are great things for any kid to be able to do, regardless of how much money their parents earn. It’s the kind of educational experience that’s sorely lacking in many of our schools these days. Thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible for our students.

Mr. Date's class pauses to take in a sunset view from Marshall Mountain.
MinnPost photo by Steve DateMr. Date’s class pauses to take in a sunset view from Marshall Mountain.

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