Winter Whiteout adventure teaches students to try new things

MANISTEE — Manistee Middle School teachers continue to marvel in what they see happen to their sixth grade students every year at the annual Winter Whiteout trip to the Center Lake Bible Camp in Tustin.

Students celebrate creating an emergency winter shelter of a quinzee (snow cave) that could be used for surviving a winter storm.

Students celebrate creating an emergency winter shelter of a quinzee (snow cave) that could be used for surviving a winter storm.

Winter Whiteout is a learning experience where students not only grow as a person, but they do it right before the eyes of their teachers and classmates.

Manistee Area Public Schools sixth grade students have been making the trip for the past 13 years as district officials know that sixth grade is the time students begin to make that all important shift from the elementary level to the middle school. It is an age when children sometimes struggle with self-confidence issues and how they fit in.

Winter Whiteout combines a series of activities that strengthen those skills. What students learn from social interaction can be just as vital as what they learn in the classroom from their regular studies.

Sixth grade teacher Matt Phillips said all the activities are put together with something in mind that will build the student’s self confidence and ability to interact and work as a team with others.

“Kids do a little bit of everything at Winter Whiteout as they learn winter survival skills and how to build a fire in the woods,” said Phillips.

Student Ceci Postma said the survival skills Phillips was talking about proved to be very informative to her.

“I learned how to make a snow shelter called a Quinzee,” said Postma. “This could be built if you were trying to survive in the freezing outdoors.”

The program is a combination of fun activities, like cross country skiing, tubing and sledding and winter survival skills like building a fire, orienteering and how to build a shelter. Mixed in with that were lessons on animals, tree identification and much more about outdoor life.

Other things stressed were team building and working together with students they may not have known very well before the trip. This was an opportunity to not only meet someone new, but to team up with them on a project and to push beyond their comfort zone in team building exercises.

Maxwell Miles, who is in Connie Josvai’s class, said he learned a lot of from Winter Whiteout.

“I learned that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and it helped me with having fun,” said Miles.

For Marina Reid it was an opportunity to learn the importance of teamwork.

“When attending Winter Whiteout, I learned that being part of a team takes kindness, safety, cooperation and being a team player,” commented Reid. “I learned how to become a better teammate.”

Taking what they learned and passing it on to others is a real sign of maturity. For Kaleb Shoemate that is something that was gained from the time at the Center Lake Bible Camp.

“Something I would like to tell the kids that will attend in the future is when you want to give up think about success and how good it feels to succeed,” said Shoemate. “Winter Whiteout is a great learning experience.”

For many of the students it was the first time to interact with their classmates in an area other than the classroom. That proved to be a lesson on its own for Luke Smith.

“One of the things I learned at Winter Whiteout was you don’t always need to be surrounded by your family or best friends to have fun,” said Smith. “I learned that others also have amazing qualities and those people were great to laugh and hang out with.”

Student Jacob Scharp said if he could pass on a message to the students of the future it would be not to be afraid of trying new things.

“If you want to have fun, participate and it will be a blast,” he said. “Many of the activities I did, I had never done before going to Winter Whiteout.”

Student Avery Vaas added a little humor to what he enjoyed the most about Winter Whiteout. But he added it taught him persistence to keep trying until he mastered something.

“My favorite activity was probably cross country skiing,” said Vaas. “My advice would be to wear thick socks and don’t cross the paths of any moving objects — those being mostly people. When I started I could barely stand, let alone ski, but I got the hang of it and whenever we went down hills I would reach the bottom without falling.”

Teacher Matt Phillips has been involved in the program since it first began. He said the community really supports it, which has played a vital role in keeping it going for the students.

“We couldn’t do it if we didn’t get grants to support it and this year they came from Spirit of Giving Fund of the Manistee County Community Foundation, Manistee Area Retired School Personnel, Manistee Lions Club, Packaging Corporation of America – Manistee, TES Filer City Station, MAPS Fund, Wheels to Woods – Michigan Tree Farm Committee and Michigan Blood,” said Phillips. “We are already planning for next year as it really helps the kids.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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