Thursday, April 10, 2014

Randolph County Outdoor Education Program

"I like the science fiction station the most."

Students from Midland and Pickens Elementary Schools gather together.
This is one student's response when I asked him about the stream he just explored. He is talking about the stoneflies, mayflies, and other benthic macroinvertebrates that his group collected from Millstone Run in a kick net. Benthic macroinvertebrates are so abundant and so diverse in Millstone Run that a net full of them can indeed look like something out of a science fiction film.

Field Instructors from The Mountain Institute are in Beverly, WV this week working with 5th graders from four Randolph County schools as part of the county's outdoor education program. Every 5th grader in the county will have participated in the Randolph County Outdoor Education Program (RCOEP) by the end of April.

In addition to aquatic ecology, students learn local forest history and ecology, traditional Appalachian music, map reading, and orienteering. They make candles, create landscape drawings, and learn about the colorful heritage of Randolph and nearby counties. 

Randolph County 5th graders captured the landscape near Beverly in these watercolor drawings. Field Instructor Sara Dorsey hangs the works to dry in the sun.

The two-day, one-night program was created in 2001 by a partnership between TMI and the Randolph County School Board. Over 5,000 students have participated in the thirteen years since.

The goal of the program is to get kids excited about the world outside their own front doors. The climate and topography of Randolph County help to make it one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States. It also spurs kids to start thinking about their futures.

Much of the county, once home to rambunctious logging boom towns, is now within the Monongahela National Forest. Logging still employs many county residents, but the forests provide a wide variety of other economic opportunities these days. Artists, musicians, scientists, naturalists, and numerous government agencies and non-profits are based in the area. Randolph County Outdoor Education Program introduces students to role models in some of these careers. 

Hard rain turns to hail as students tromp between different content stations on Millstone Run. The group is so happy to be outside though that they scarcely notice the challenging weather.

For more information about the program, visit www.mountain.org/rcoep.




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