Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More Wild than the Zoo

Two hundred miles away from Spruce Knob, WV, at an elevation of around 500 feet, sits the small town of Cottageville, WV on the banks of the Ohio River. Every year, the small class of graduating 5th graders has gone on a field trip to celebrate their time at the close-knit elementary school. In past years, the school visited the zoo, but in 2014 thirteen 5th-graders made the trip from Cottageville to The Mountain Institute's Spruce Knob Mountain Center for the first time.

The teachers were excited to add science education, team-building activities, and exploration of West Virginia's natural resources to their annual field trip. The 5th graders from Cottageville Elementary School arrived in matching tie-dye t-shirts reading "Mountain Institute Class Field Trip 2014" and backpacks monogrammed with their names. They also arrived eager to have fun, despite the unfamiliar surroundings.

We spent two days with the students, hunting for salamanders, exploring the Sinks of Gandy, and orienteering to the summit of Spruce Knob. Students laughed and learned to be flexible when real life situations did not match their expectations. Students who climbed Spruce Knob on the first day told their friends of epic vistas where they could read evidence of geologic history in the ridges and valleys to the east and scattered knobs and knolls to the west. Students who climbed on the second day were greeted by towering thunderheads and sheets of rain rolling in fast from the west. Students jumped in our vans parked at the summit just as the sky above opened up to release buckets of heavy rain and thunder boomed overhead. Instead of enjoying a picnic in the boulder field, we had "vanwiches" and watched the storm pass before returning to Spruce Knob Mountain Center. Both groups enjoyed valuable experiences that were challenging in different ways because of our dynamic mountain environment.

At the end of the program, teachers and students had great things to say. One teacher believed the "trip taught the importance of perseverance". Another student summed up his experience,

"This course showed me that there are new things in the world that are tough but you can get through them and it showed me how beautiful the world is".

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