Catonsville Middle School principal Michael Thorne didn't need a reminder of why he sends his sixth-grade class to NorthBay, a week-long environmental camp in North East, Md., but got one anyway.
"I saw a group of kids who (on April 18) were having trouble getting along, were having trouble working together," the fifth-year principal said.
The next day, the group successfully completed a teamwork challenge that required balancing a person on a board on top of a cylinder and moving the structure across the room.
"By the end of it, they were hugging and cheering for each other," Thorne said.
Those sorts of moments are one reason why the school has sent its students to NorthBay, a six-year-old program that uses hands-on techniques to teach science and teamwork.
Joining Catonsville Middle for the second consecutive year at the camp more than 60 miles away was a group from Arbutus Middle School, which draws students from Catonsville and Arbutus.
"For us, it's important for the students in our community to get to do stuff together," Arbutus Middle principal Michelle Feeney said. "We're lucky in the way we get to do something for the community."
Ethan Johnson, a Catonsville resident attending Arbutus Middle, said he enjoyed working with the students from Catonsville Middle.
"It was pretty fun, because in school it's just the same people every day," Ethan said. "But then when we were at NorthBay, it was a whole bunch of my friends."
Many of the students said they appreciated the active parts of the week, which included riding a large swing, going through a rope course and climbing a rock wall.
Akirra Pullen, an Arbutus Middle student from Arbutus, enjoyed riding the big swing and even braved the rope course.
"I went across the rope course," Akirra said. "The one part I didn't like was the straight line with nothing up top."
Shayla Williams, an Arbutus Middle sixth-grader from Baltimore City, said she rock climbed inside and outside for the first time and would recommend NorthBay to other students.
"Other people who did not go to NorthBay, if they go to NorthBay, they can do things that they've never did before," Shayla said.
Will Ford, a sixth-grader from Catonsville Middle, enjoyed riding the swing, which allowed him to swing over the beach and get a unique peak at the pretty view.
A lesson about an invasive species stuck with Will as much as the swing, though.
"In the bay, there's an invasive species called Asian clams...and they're taking over the brackish water clams that lived there," Will said. "I learned a lot."
For Peniel Beyene, a sixth-grader from Catonsville Middle, the lessons learned were how plastics can pollute the earth.
"It showed me that the environment needs help," Peniel said, noting she would not litter and pick up trash when she sees it. "(NorthBay) really shows how the environment is important to our everyday lives but adds a little bit of fun with it."
"For our school, I like the combination of the character education and the hands-on science," Feeney said. "It's something the students bring back with them into the school building and something we can reference throughout their middle school years."
It's also something that the students will keep with them as they enter high school.
"Every year, when we have our eighth grade farewell ceremony, the students tell us NorthBay was the highlight of their middle school experience," Thorne said.
The cost for each student for the week-long overnight stay was $150 after the school raised about $12,000, Thorne said.
To defray the cost of the camp, Catonsville Middle holds several fundraisers throughout the year, such as renting seat cushions during school functions and admission to its annual variety show.
More than 90 percent (230) of the 247 sixth-graders at Catonsville Middle went to NorthBay.
Arbutus Middle also had fundraisers, but Feeney did not have the amount the school raised or the cost per student available.
Of its 246 sixth-graders, Feeney said 75 percent (185) went to NorthBay this year.
Both principals noted that numerous parents at Catonsville Middle and Arbutus Middle paid extra to support other children in need of financial assistance to go on the trip.
Because the program has become so popular at the schools, NorthBay will not have the room to accommodate both Catonsville Middle and Arbutus Middle at the same time next year.
Arbutus Middle students will visit April 15. Catonsville Middle will begin its camp a week later.