Ben Grant

Fontana fifth-grader Ben Grant, left, joins classmates in inspecting a fish sample April 27 during Fontana’s annual outdoor education retreat. (Contributed photo/Regional News)

FONTANA — Outdoor education teacher Jayme Jones earned applause and a bouquet of roses at the Fontana Elementary School outdoor program at Conference Point in Williams Bay.

But Jones had already resigned and will not be back to lead next year’s popular outdoor education program.

After school board members took steps to review changes in the program, Jones said she decided to step away after one year and also to resign her teaching position.

Jones said she suspects school district officials are hoping to bring back Noreen Lamsam, who retired last year after running the outdoor education program for 30 years.

A fifth-grade teacher at Fontana for the past four years, Jones said she is resigning from the faculty.

She declined to elaborate.

School District Administrator Sara Norton said she was saddened to hear of Jones’ decision to resign.

Jones was hired four years ago with the intention that she would teach fifth grade and lead the outdoor education program after Lamsam’s retirement, Norton said.

“She’s a very strong teacher,” Norton said of Jones. “I wish her all the best.”

Norton said no request has come through her administrative office to bring Lamsam back from retirement.

Contacted at her home, Lamsam said she had not been asked to return and run the program. Lamsam, however, has agreed to serve on an ad hoc committee created by the district to review how the program was run this year.

School Board President Tom Labus said there is no effort underway to bring Lamsam back to run the program.

However, because of its long history as a program at the school, Labus said, parents and teachers who participated in the program in the past often ask to provide volunteer help.

“We want to keep as many people involved as we can,” he said.

The outdoor education program, which takes Fontana fifth-graders out of the classroom and into nature, is considered a jewel of the Fontana school district. It has become a beloved tradition dating back 59 years.

Outdoor education week this year took place April 29 to May 3.

After Lamsam’s retirement last year, administrators selected Jones and science teacher Kristin Rabe to take over the program. Both had worked with Lamsam in recent years on the week-long educational retreat.

Rabe offered no reaction to Jones’ resignation, but said that she plans on returning next year to be involved in the outdoor education program.

In March, Jones wrote a letter to the school board protesting what was characterized as second-guessing on the school board’s part over changes to the program this year.

Among the changes that Jones and Rabe oversaw were moving the program from Lake Geneva Youth Camp in Lake Geneva to Conference Point Center in Williams Bay, reducing the number of teacher supervisors, imposing academic requirements for high school student counselors, eliminating counselor pranks on fifth-graders and changing the manner in which students are awarded for their work on the retreat.

Outdoor education had been taught without change for 59 years, Jones said, but curriculum has changed. The effort this year was to bring the camp more in line with what is being taught in the school, she said.

In the past, Lamsam would take students on nature walks and show them how to identify flowers, trees and plants. Now, teachers talk about invasive species and career choices in environmental sciences and environmental protection, Jones said.

“I don’t teach all the spring and fall wild flowers,” she said.

Also in the past, students created bulletin boards at the week-long retreat and posted pictures, written pieces and samples of what they found during field trips.

The bulletin boards this year were replaced with videos taken by the students using small video cameras, then edited on laptops. The 26 participating fifth-graders were divided into five teams and each one prepared a video, all of which were shown to parents during a May 2 open house.

The videos received hearty applause from more than 50 visitors during the open house.

Although the weather was rainy and chilly for most of the week, students enjoyed games, learned about wildlife from a state biologist, and took turns zip-lining and canoeing.

Weather is not a factor in the outdoor program, said Katie Chalchoff, one of six counselors from Big Foot High School.

“As long as we can show them we’re having fun, they can have fun,” Chalchoff said.

Parent Jennifer Koerner, whose son, Orlando Hernandez, participated in the program, said she took outdoor education as a Fontana student herself in the 1980s.

“It was fun,” Koerner said. “We did a lot of activities.”

Parents voiced no objections to how the program was run this year for their kids.

Brandee Brown, another former student and now a parent, said she remembered races and a big bonfire at the end of the camp.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “It’s the best program they have.”

Labus, who also attended the May 2 open house, said he liked some of the changes to the program, including new student housing at Conference Point and the videos the kids prepared.

The ad hoc review committee put together in March will look at the program and present a report to the school board in May or June, he said.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.