On Tuesday, Richard “Dick” Tierney, a Providence Country Day School history and math teacher, arrived at Chewonki with a gang of his middle school students for four days and three nights in the Outdoor Classroom.
The remarkable thing to note: this veteran of teaching has brought his students back to Chewonki every fall for 28 years. Yet his enthusiasm, humor, and curiosity seem fresh; It’s clear that Tierney is the rare human being who loves and understands middle-schoolers, perhaps because he’s got a bit of their spirit in himself.
“A rollicking cast of characters,” he says as he looks toward the sound of his students laughing on the ropes and wires of Chewonki’s Challenge Course.
Outdoor Classroom programs provide wide-open opportunities for students to learn about themselves and collaboration, says Tierney. “It’s about teamwork, respect for one another, support for one another,” he says. The day before, he says, a group of his students were trying to balance their way across a wire to make it to a particular tree. The first succeeded with ease and then stood back, “a bit aloof,” to watch their more timid peers. As each remaining student tried the challenge, excitement grew, and before long, all the students were cheering on their peers.
“It was great,” Tierney smiles. “You think for a moment maybe you lost them, but then in the end, they come through for each other.”
Chewonki’s program has evolved over his nearly three decades of participation, Tierney says. “I support ‘challenge by choice’ 100 percent,” he notes, remembering that in the early days of the Outdoor Classroom, there was more of a mandate to dare.
Living, cooking, and learning on Chewonki Neck are the core of his students’ experience here. He appreciates how the adventure helps illuminate his current classroom curriculum, which focuses on New England Native Americans. He also appreciates the time students spend on the Challenge Course and at the farm, where they learn where their vegetables, milk, meat, and eggs come from and take responsibility for composting.
Tierney believes in the power of the Outdoor Classroom experience because he’s lived it. “We’ve had alumni come back and tell us, ‘I still remember our trip to Chewonki,’” he says. “I’ve brought a student to Chewonki whose father came here with me.”
He pauses and grins. “The day one of my students tells me their grandfather came here with me, I guess I should retire.”
Here’s to many more visits by Dick Tierny and his Providence Country Day School adventurers!