A Catholic, college-preparatory school, grades 7-12

Red Knights Explore the Outdoors for English Credit

July 28, 2017


Benilde-St. Margaret’s continues to look for ways to enhance and transform the teaching and learning experience. New this summer, BSM offered an eco-writing class open to students who are entering 10th - 12th grade.

The eco-writing course allows students to discover their “listening point” where they can contemplate the universe with awe. The course ran from June through July culminating with a weeklong canoe trip at Laketrails Base Camp in Oak Island, MN.

Before the Red Knights departed, Leif (‘18) shared his excitement for the trip: “I am looking forward to is the sense of adventure we are going to share and the friendships that will come out of it.”

The class was created by junior high math teacher, Ms. Kristin Gilbertson and senior high English teacher Ms. Katie Belanger. Instead of watching the calendar days fly by, the nine students in this class dove into a summer in the outdoors while also earning English credit.

“Katie and I both feel strongly that wilderness experiences are vital to a person's spiritual well being, so we are hoping the class will help the students experience that, as well as exposing them to some of the great nature writers past and present,” Ms. Gilbertson explained.

Throughout the course, students read the inspirational true story of Canoeing with the Cree, a book by Eric Sevareid. It tells the true story of his 2,250 mile canoe trip with his friend Walter Port. The trip went from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay in 1930 and 78 years later two Chaska natives made the same trip.IMG_1328.JPG

In 2008, at 18 years of age, Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte replicated the journey. The eco-writing students were fortunate to have them speak to their class before they departed on their canoe trip on July 7.  

In addition to talking with students about their experience, they also offered the students some advice: “Nothing like this is impossible, even at your age. Just recognize that you can take risks and adventures like these but sometimes you have to start small in order to work your way up to this big goal.”

Although the weeklong trip on Lake of the Woods is less daunting in comparison to the trip Bloomfield and Witte completed, Ms. Gilbertson confirmed, “it was an intensely physical trip." Some of the kids even said it was the hardest thing they have ever done.

The class portaged to a lake that was untouched by humans in the last 10 years. The portage was through thick brush, downed trees and mud, involving steep inclines and lots of mosquitoes. With no trail, the students had to carry canoes and gear learning a lot about teamwork and togetherness. The class also experienced all kinds of weather from hot to cold and from calm waters to 3ft rolling waves. However, no matter what they faced, the students truly enjoyed the trip.


“The class was such a great experience and one I will never forget! At times the trip was really exhausting, yet it was so much fun and rewarding. Even though we had a few cold shivering mornings and had to put on wet clothes, I looked around and saw a family. Through everything we became a family, and that is my biggest takeaway from this class,” Emma (‘19) shared.

On trail, students shared animal patronus poems that they had written, daily nature journalling and read poetry from famous nature writers around our campfires.

Back at base camp, Henry (‘18) won the Wilderness Award, which is rarely given out to first time campers. Henry will have a paddle with his name on it hanging in the lodge on Oak Island. He is also invited back to train to be a guide.

Winners of this award are described as "someone you would want to be lost in the woods with.” He not only sterned a canoe every day, portaged one on his shoulders (while sometimes carrying an additional pack), but he also helped with meals, collected wood, started fires, and kept all the campers laughing.

Both Gilbertson and Belanger hoped the Red Knights would take with them a sense of awe for nature and a desire to preserve wilderness in all its forms. The students not only learned about teamwork and exploring the wilderness, they had the opportunity to care and embrace God’s creation.

“I think all of the kids would agree that it was an amazing experience and our group formed a special bond. Katie and I hope to continue the class next summer,” said Gilbertson.

2501 Highway 100 South, St. Louis Park, MN 55416     952-927-4176