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134 Pisgah 2009 2009-10-07

Pisgah group picture

Amy, my wife - Ms Blogger, went with her class on a huge field trip. Here is her report:

Last week the sixth grade class of my school, traveled to Pisgah National Forest for our annual outdoor experience retreat. Leaving Nashville at the break of dawn on Tuesday the students, teachers, and staff spent four long days together in the backcountry areas of western North Carolina.

The trip to Pisgah takes approximately five hours on two big, luxury, touring buses. While riding the bus, the kids watched movies, played games, and generally hung out the way twelve year olds do. Their enthusiasm was overwhelming to say the least.

Sometime around noon on Tuesday we arrived at our destination, the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, just south of the Smokies. The eighty or so students with their accompanying gear were herded off of the plush buses and into the wilds. Their adventures began.

No matter how much time I had spent in my class trying to prepare the kids mentally for what they would be doing, there always seems to be a shock of reality. Other than the few Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the grade, most of the kids have never spent the night outside - and here we were dumping them out in the middle of the woods without any structure more defined than a nearby pit toilet. Although things are usually a bit tentative at first, nearly all the kids end up embracing even the most trying parts of this endeavor.

Upon arrival the class was divided into smaller groups of about 10 or 11 students, half girls, half boys. The small group sizes were vital to the overall experience. Pre-chosen by the teachers the smaller groups were arranged to promote friendship and trust among classmates. The kids were going to have to spend the next four days trusting their new group mates.

If there were any disappointments caused by friends not being in the same group, the feelings were short lived as Adventure Treks staff (a specialty company hired by the school) led the groups to their different activities. Each group was led by two very competent instructors and accompanied by a teacher or staff member from school.

During the week, the kids slept in tents, learned to cook their own meals (assisted, of course!), deciphered maps, went backpacking, summited various points along the Blue Ridge Parkway, went rock climbing, picked blueberries, and froze their butts off going down "Sliding Rock" (a natural water slide). We finished the trip on Friday with a cold whitewater rafting down the famous Nantahala River. The kids were amazed at what they accomplish in a short period of time. Peers saw each other in new and different environments.

After the rafting trip we packed into the buses and headed home arriving in Nashville late Friday afternoon. As always, I got off of the bus exhausted and seeking quiet, but fulfilled by the new relationships I had developed with the eighty students.

All of the teachers on the trip, were able to see the students excel at things we may have never dreamed they were capable based simply on classroom observations. We were given a new lens for looking at kids we might never have "seen" but for our experiences together. We saw evolving personalities, talents, and abilities that would probably never have been seen in a classroom. We saw the kids grow. Outdoor trips are truly invaluable teaching tools!

Happy Pisgah trails.


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