Esko students explore Gooseberry Falls

Flex learning days aim to build deeper connection between students, teachers

Esko eighth graders take a moment for a photograph during a flex learning day trip Oct. 16 to Gooseberry Falls State Park north of Two Harbors. (Photo courtesy of Michele Johnson)

Instead of sitting in a classroom Oct. 16, a group of about 80 eighth grade students and three teachers spent most of their day exploring Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Students hiked around the waterfalls, got a close-up view of the choppy autumn waves on Lake Superior, checked out exhibits in the visitor center and had a quick picnic before heading back to school, Esko teacher Michele Johnson said.

The trip was part of Esko’s flex learning days program. Now in its second year, the program aims to get teachers and students in grades 7-12 together outside a traditional classroom setting in an attempt to build a deeper connection.

Esko eighth graders Rylee DeMers, Sophia Reeves, Ava Pederson, Catrina Vigliaturo and Brooklyn Stewart take a moment to pose for a photo during an Oct. 16 trip to Gooseberry Falls State Park. (Photo courtesy of Michele Johnson)


“We have found that students who have a connection to their teacher do better,” Johnson said. “So this is an attempt to basically connect with them outside the learning environment of the classroom.”

Students responded to a survey after the trip asking about their experience. Johnson said 100% of the students said they felt like they had connected with a teacher on the trip. She said her experience enhanced her relationship with students, too.

“Personally, I like seeing kids outside the classroom. You learn a lot about them,” Johnson said. “I know most of the teachers enjoy seeing kids outside the classroom.”

Esko eighth grade students check out waves on Lake Superior near the mouth of the Gooseberry River during an Oct. 16 field trip. (Photo courtesy of Michele Johnson)

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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