One of our missions at Falk is to guide individuals toward developing and maintaining a sustainable relationship between themselves and the natural world. We want our students to find, appreciate, and deepen the connections to nature in their residence, workplace, and recreation. We know that a connection to nature provides measurable benefits to individuals’ mental health and to the well-being of the local ecosystems, which provide material benefits to our local environment and communities. Yet beyond any tangible benefits it provides, we hope to instill and deepen students’ appreciation of nature for its own sake. Our environmental field trip to Lutherlyn provides a unique educational setting for experiencing and exploring these personal connections and the broader interactions of humans with the natural world.
An environmental trip has been a signature experience at Falk for more than forty years. Beginning in the fall of 1975, Falk's middle schoolers and their teachers journeyed to the McKeever Environmental Learning Center in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania for three nights and four days of learning, playing, relationship building, and mindfulness. Pennsylvania closed McKeever indefinitely in 2017, ending a chapter in the history of this trip. Those who experienced McKeever will always have special memories from those trips, but we are also excited to continue the tradition and find new opportunities to improve and reinvigorate our curriculum as our environmental week moves into a new era at Lutherlyn.
Lutherlyn’s 543-acre campsite, located about forty miles north of Pittsburgh near Butler, Pennsylvania has all of the essentials for our trip: streams for studying water quality and aquatic habitats, a fertile field for soil analysis, and a variety of forest and wetland habitats we can use for hiking, stargazing, observing nature, building natural sculptures, or inspiring poetry. It also provides some exciting new opportunities for our exploration, such as an archaeological site containing Iroquois artifacts, an “enchanted forest” area which was once a tree nursery, a nature center exhibiting local organisms, and a lived-in sustainable homestead demonstrating a variety of energy- and material-saving construction techniques and lifestyle choices.
Current students and many alumni often identify their environmental trips as times they will never forget. They remember listening to the rushing stream in the serene hemlock grove, writing poetry in an adopted spot in the forest, lying on their backs looking for shooting stars in the forest clearing during night hikes, creating art inside the forest using found materials a la Andy Goldsworthy, practicing sunrise yoga in the commons rooms, walking the streams doing water analysis, or making s’mores around a fire are just a few. In a balance of science, language arts, and mindfulness activities, students learn something about themselves and their world and leave the trip carrying a deeper relationship with nature, and almost always with new and deeper friendships too.