Boaz Middle School students spent part of their Friday outdoors building temporary shelters. 

They weren’t planning to camp out, but they were mixing language arts class with STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education for the day. 

The sixth-grade classes were reading Gary Paulsen’s novel, “Hatchet,” and worked to recreate some of the experiences the main character lived through. 

In “Hatchet,” Brian Robeson is a passenger traveling by plane across the wilderness of Minnesota when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Brian survives the subsequent plane crash and has to learn to survive in the wilderness, with nothing but a hatchet in his possession.

Allen said the students were not only learning about survival basics, they were also learning responsibility, leadership and cooperation skills. 

“This has brought some students out of their shells,” said teacher Sara Allen. “Some of my students have really stepped up. It is their time to shine.”

The task sounds simple enough, but students must be creative and resourceful.

“They were tasked with coming out here to come up with a shelter of some type made just from what they found outside,” Allen said.

“They are using tree limbs, logs, tarps and vines to come up with shelters. They can’t run to Lowes or the hardware store and get some string or a hammer and nails. They can’t use zip ties.

“Some made lean-to designs. Others have used the tarp they found to make a tent-like structure.”

One class utilized a sealed sewer pipe in the wooded area to create a tent-like structure around it. 

Each structure was graded on four criteria:

• Does it stand on its own?

• Are the sides closed except for the opening?

• Would it stay in place in wind?

• Would occupants would stay dry during rain?

Students utilized an area near the school’s outdoor classroom and agriculture class areas at the back of the school. 

Teacher Sherry Jones said the exercise excited students who have been cooped up in classrooms due to COVID restrictions. Most field trips and visitors to the school have been suspended due to the pandemic. 

“They’ve been doing some standardized testing so they are really enjoying being outdoors,” Jones said. 

One student brought an extra shirt to school just to use in the project. He surmised since the main character in “Hatchet” was traveling, he would have had suitcases of clothing with him. The extra shirt could be cut up and used to tie limbs together, for example, she said. 

The teachers were not allowed to help the students build the structure or collect materials. 

They, along with Allen’s dad, Tim Allen, were allowed to make sure all students stayed safe. Tim Allen wielded an axe to cut a few limbs or tame unruly bramble bushes, all in the name of safety.

Each class had nearly 90 minutes to complete the assignment. Once the teachers inspected the structures, Tim Allen dismantled them, giving the next class a clean slate.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Allen said. “In years past, we have had to build the structures in front of the school.

“This is definitely messier, but much more authentic.”



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