OGDEN -- It looked like Christmas lights blinking from the mountaintop, but it was actually students signalling the ones they left behind.
That's the way some students at Venture Academy described their mirrors reflecting the sun from the tops of Mount Ben Lomond and Lewis Peak last week.
Nearly 170 students in Stacy Swapp's physical education and outdoor adventure class participated in a hike and mirror-signaling activities that taught them about communication and the great outdoors.
"It was really cool because we hiked up to the top of the mountain and we got our mirrors out and angled them toward the sun," said 6th grader Abigail Child. "The kids back at the school did the same thing and we were able to see their mirrors flashing back at us. They were like little tiny Christmas lights blinking all over."
This is the fourth year the students at the Marriott-Slaterville charter school have been on a hiking expedition, Swapp said. However, this is the first year they hiked to the top of Lewis and Ben Lomond peaks.
"We took five different routes," Swapp said. "It was really quite an adventure because the kids became extremely familiar with their natural surroundings, which is exactly what we want to teach them."
The students met at the school at 6:45 a.m. and were climbing by 7:30, said Swapp.
"There are a few different purposes for the hike. First, it is tradition. Every year we have taken the middle school on an annual fall hike," she said. "Each year, we have made the experience better. Second, the purpose was to get kids thinking about what is around them. To help them see how big the world is, yet how connected we all can be by using the sun and a mirror. We have a stong mission within the school to help students understand their world by diving deep into it and exploring it."
Once on top of the mountain, the students in 6th through 9th grades pulled out all different sizes of mirrors. Some were compact, others were as big as 8 x 8 inches. Angling the mirrors toward the sun, they sent flashing signals to kindergarten through 5th graders back on the school grounds who were also sending signals with the back of a CD.
"It was cool because we could see the kids down on the ground flashing back at us and we could also see flashes from other kids at the other mountain tops," said 6th grader Brennen Nelson. "We could also see all of BDO and the Standard-Examiner from where we were standing. I saw Salt Lake and Willard Bay, too."
Venture Academy secretary Christel Grange-Hicks, who was down on the ground with the younger students, said it was thrilling to watch the children engage in the activity. She said some were amazed at the possibility of actually walking to the top of a mountain.
Journalism students Brittney Fairbourn and Elizabeth Drake said everyone kept a positive attitude, even though the hike was long.
"People who sweat together, stick together," said Brittney.
"Ignoring my sore feet, I learned how to endure to the goal no matter how difficult the struggle," said 7th grade journalism student Jessica Russell. "We have been so blessed to have an amazing array of natural wonders around us, I am grateful that we are able to challenge ourselves as we explore our surroundings. This hike taught me that I could do hard things and be happy too."
Jonatha Mingo, a 9th grader, thought the hike was very worthwhile.
"Oh, it was totally worth it," she said. "It was a lot more strenuous than some of the other hikes I've been on, but we learned a lot and the mirror signaling was really cool."
Swapp said the shortest hike was four miles round trip. The longest was 15 miles round trip.
"They definitely got their exercise, but they also got to learn about their surroundings and get a unique hands-on experience," she said. "They took journals and wrote down their experience and they also each came up with a name for the acronym PEAK. We focus a lot on adventure here at the school and I think the kids really enjoy and appreciate that."