Semester in the Woods
Kenneth Forbeck, CS16, Beloit, WI

Imagine skiing through a forest of towering white pines, young aspen, or hemlock to find a peninsula surrounded by a bog that you can sit in, in nearly three feet of deep snow. Or try to picture hiking through a wilderness territory, with no visible signs of anyone else there before you. These brief descriptions are just a small fraction of the sights I was privileged to see while attending Conserve School.

Conserve School is a semester school based around environmental education and conservation. The purpose of the school is to expand a student’s love and understanding of nature and give them the tools to be effective environmental advocates; this is through college preparatory courses offered at the school.

Students with snowshoes having class outside in the snow

To me and many others, Conserve has been a positive life-changing experience. Every semester Conserve brings together about 60 students from across the nation (and even sometimes internationally). During the first night, I met everyone in person; I could not have imagined the experiences and bonds I would share with them throughout and after the semester. By the end of the semester, we were all proud to call ourselves a Conserve family.

The experience is not like anything else around. Spending four months with other Sophomores and Juniors in the Northwoods of Wisconsin (and sometimes the U.P. of Michigan) where we went outside for over half the time the classes met, and shared invaluable experiences; is nearly indescribable.

Our science class, AP Environmental Science, interacted directly with the environment around us. We went outside, drilled a hole in the ice, and performed a test on the water or found a random section of forest and learned how to measure the biodiversity of trees or measured carbon sequestration. The ability to access 1200 acres of woods, lakes, and bogs gave us an unique opportunity to study nature. 

Student with feet in the bog

In our English class, American Literature and the Land, we read books and excerpts by Robert Frost, Terry Tempest Williams, Jack London, Jon Krakauer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and so many more. We learned about the evolving human connections to the land. We also learned about advocacy and how advocates have had an impact on our treatment of nature. During that class, we snowshoed in the Sylvania Wilderness Area, taking breaks to read or discuss the natural world. One day we were in a tree reading John Muir.

We also really interacted and learned about the exploration of nature through the History course, Exploration in America, and the Physical Education course, Outdoor Skills. In history class, my most memorable moment was cutting a 3’x3’x2.5’ block of ice out of one of the lakes to work on teamwork and get a better understanding of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s struggles during their attempt to cross the Antarctic continent in 1914. As part of Outdoor Skills, we learned archery, ax throwing, tent setup, knot tying, first aid, skiing, backcountry cooking, rock climbing, and so much more!

Student with legs hanging over the edge of a canoe

As part of that class, I went solo camping. For me, solo camping was a peaceful and enjoyable time. I got to put my skills to practice and do some problem solving along the way. I remember how beautiful the scenery was and how I woke up at midnight and had s’ mores over a fire pan. There were clear skies and a full bright moon, the light sparkled on the buds of the young aspen that surrounded me, and it was silent except for the quiet crackle of the fire.
As part of the curriculum, we also went on a 5-day camping trip, either backpacking or canoeing and portaging. For my trip, I went canoeing in the Sylvania Wilderness Area and created countless memories that I cannot describe in words, but I will feel them for a lifetime.

There are countless memories I could recall, and I am grateful for every single one of those memories and the friends I made within them. I would genuinely recommend the school if a person is interested in the environment and wants to challenge themselves with an incredible experience. For fun, I have also added some three-word stories that represent some memorable moments in my semester at Conserve School.

Student selfie in the woods

Note: Every semester brings a different experience, and the school is continually changing.

Conserve three-word stories:
- Sleeping in quinzee!
- 30 in hammocks!
- Contra dancing fun!
- Open Mic Nights!
- Sled dog races!
- Gun Violence Walkout
- 14-foot pole!
- Sawing a tree!
- Freezing temporary pond!
- Hiding a tree!
- Dugout canoe paddling!
- Soccer in snow!
- Sleeping: Missing Dinner!

Photos Contributed by Ken Forbeck, CS16.