Originally published Aug. 16, 2018 in the Watertown Daily Times.
By Emily Griffin
South Lewis Central School District has annually dedicated time to teaching a skill students may carry with them forever — hiking.
For the 22nd year, South Lewis fourth-graders will take a hiking trip to Bald Mountain.
Within just three weeks of the school year kickoff, the district will have had a fourth-grade cross-country run, eighth-grade and fifth-grade biking trips, and the Bald Mountain hike all completed.
And the physical activity field trips don’t end there; even after weather conditions make hiking and biking unsafe, the school offers a skiing day for high-school juniors at Maple Ridge and a snowshoeing trip for fifth-graders and sixth-graders.
Once warm weather returns at the end of the school year, seventh-graders get a mountain biking trip as well.
“We have numerous opportunities for kids at South Lewis,” said Brock Smykla, one of the physical education teachers.
Mr. Smykla was one of the teachers to begin the annual Bald Mountain hiking trip back in 1997.
“I did a questionnaire asking if anyone had hiked before and found that not many had,” he said. “We’ve got Bald Mountain right in our backyard, and it’s a relatively easy hike, it’s perfect for fourth-graders.”
The hike even used to have forest rangers and Department of Environmental Conservation officers join the children to contribute to the educational aspect, teaching students about those professions, outdoor safety and how to climb.
C. Brian Oakes is the director of health, physical education and athletics at South Lewis.
He said the school wants to “give kids the opportunity to take advantage of what we’re all about in the north country.”
“We’re lucky the whole school sees this as a positive. The community and school really support this stuff,” Mr. Oakes said.
The hiking and other trips not only promote an interest in physical activity in the students, and can also lead to higher productivity in the classroom.
“It’s proven that physical activity helps kids succeed academically, so if we are able to excite them with physical fitness, we can help them improve academically and that’s a goal of ours,” Mr. Oakes said.
If the students take interest in the physical activities they are able to experience through the school, they can practice them on their own with family and develop it as a healthy hobby as well.
“I wanted to instill a love for the outdoors into kids and get them outside, especially now with technology and iPods. It wasn’t as much an issue back in the early 2000s but it is ever so more important,” Mr. Smykla said.
It is the hope of the district to give students a fun outlet to burn energy, improve fitness and productivity and learn a lifelong skill.
“We at South Lewis are passionate about giving students every opportunity we can to implement an interest in lifelong sports and take advantage of what we have in our community,” Mr. Smykla said.