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Fourth Graders Make Memories on Annual Wolf Ridge Trip

Fourth Graders Make Memories on Annual Wolf Ridge Trip
Click on the above photo for more photos of Hilltop students at Wolf Ridge.

May 30, 2024 — In what has become a rite of passage, Westonka's fourth grade students, along with a group of staff and parents, spent an exciting week at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota. For the second consecutive year and second time in the 45-year history of the trip, all the fourth graders from Hilltop and Shirley Hills primary schools attended Wolf Ridge together the week of May 20-24. Although the classes for the two schools were on different schedules, the students in the Class of 2032 overlapped at mealtimes and got together for a group picture.

“It was amazing having the two schools together whose students will merge into one class next school year,” said Shirley Hills second grade teacher Deb Loomis. “The trip was incredibly memorable and fun, even when facing some really heavy rain.”

Grandview Middle School Principal Christy Zachow said she’s heard countless stories from students and parents over the years about the “incredibly transformational” trip and now, after accompanying the group this year for the first time, she understands why.

“What struck me most is the extraordinary gift this experience represents from our community to our children,” said Zachow. “I witnessed numerous adults supporting, encouraging and comforting kids who were scared, nervous or insecure.”

“They became so invested in these kids that they couldn’t hold back their pride and happiness when a student overcame a fear or encouraged a friend,” Zachow added. “Their tears spoke volumes about their commitment and emotional investment in all our children.”

Students spent the week learning about the environment and had opportunities to participate in a variety of activities, including voyageur life, Ojibwe heritage, small mammals, wetlands ecology, ropes course, indoor rock climbing, and birds. Other activities included paper making, rope making, mystery skulls and block printing.

The Wolf Ridge experience stays with many students for a lifetime. The trip is often mentioned as a favorite memory of school days and is even noted in some graduation speeches.

This year’s Hilltop group was the biggest in the 45th year of the Wolf Ridge program, including115 students and 155-plus people in all. “We had some rainy/windy weather challenges, but our students handled it well, and had a successful week,” said Hilltop fourth grade teacher Craig Schmidt. “We helped audition a new class for Wolf Ridge, called Lake Superior Field Station, where we studied what life looks like on Lake Superior at both the micro and the macro levels.”

Shirley Hills Trip to Wolf Ridge
Click on the above image for more photos of Shirley Hills students at Wolf Ridge.

Students and parents at both schools participate in a variety of fundraising activities to help cover the cost of the trip.

“By facing the challenges and overcoming them to have a fantastic week, Theresa [Schmidt] and I agreed that this was one of our best trips ever – truly one to remember,” said Craig Schmidt. “Wolf Ridge truly is an indelible experience etched in memories forever," added Loomis.

Wolf Ridge is a nationally respected and accredited K-12 school and residential learning center. The educational activities immerse participants in nature exploration, cultural history, outdoor skills, team-building, and personal growth.