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Mountain Sun Community School’s Pack of Coyotes Embark on First Backpacking Journey

By Kayla C. Leed | Brevard, NC

At Mountain Sun Community School, learning about the history of Transylvania County and its natural resources is not confined to the classroom and textbooks.

The Middle School students, also known as the Coyote Class, backpacked through Pisgah National Forest to explore the real-life impacts of early Transylvanians on the local land, economy, and culture. The students and their three instructors started their journey in South Mills River and ended at the Cradle of Forestry to present their discoveries and learn more about the work Carl Alwin Schenck, founder of the first forestry school in the United States.

The students began their three day trip with rainy weather which quickly cleared out for a beautiful hike. They explored logging roads and discussed the human impact that the first loggers had on the land, including erosion from clear cutting and damming up the Davidson River.

In addition to learning about history, students also discovered more about the species populating the woods, an important first step in learning how to be good stewards of the forest. Students were divided up into three groups and each group learned about important trees in the area. They used a dichotomous tree finder which helped them use leaves to identify trees.

Lead Middle School Teacher, Daniel Sprinkle said, “Our keyword for this trip was impact. During our hike we used trees to identify the human impacts. We noticed what kind of trees were growing: old growth trees, or trees that take a long time to grow, or trees that grow quickly.”

Taking an integrated multidisciplinary approach, Sprinkle is teaching the Coyotes plant studies in science, exploring the Civil War through literature, and sharing the beginnings of Transylvania County in history. Tying it all together through this backpacking trip, the students had an opportunity to discover how humans, through both land use and history, have impacted Transylvania County.

There were two leaders of the day for each day. These students were expected to be responsible for leading the group and keeping everyone together. “This helped some students really shine and other students to get out of their comfort zones and do something they wouldn’t otherwise do. I hope this helps them develop a better idea of what their position is on the team and foresee the tasks that will need to get done.” Sprinkle explained.

“We had a few speed bumps on the first day of hiking. I don’t think they anticipated how heavy packs can be. On Day Two they had a hard time waking up but once they were up, they did a much better job at sticking together. By Day Three we were more like a well-oiled machine,” Sprinkle said. Meeting and responding to these kinds of challenges builds the resilience that students need now and in the future.

Kim Skeen, Upper Elementary Assistant Teacher, attended the backpacking trip as well. She said, “There is a lot of time for growth as far as how to be in the woods. The new 6th graders haven’t been in the woods as much as the 7th/8th graders, allowing them to be leaders and learners. MSCS students start with these experiences from family camping trips to independent camping trips to longer backpacking trips to gain increasing independence. There is a progression in the learning of how to be in the woods because it is a part of the curriculum at every level.”

To present a more modern perspective, the week after the trip students took a field trip to Holmes Educational State Forest where they learned about contemporary forest management. Discovering human impact in the field, learning about Schenck who created sustainable forestry practices, and then exploring how those practices are used today gave the Coyotes a full circle inspiration to continue sustainable practices.

By the time the Coyotes got back from their trips they had many stories to share. The Middle School students experienced history in real time and while they were at it, they discovered a love of learning, a deeper bond and and sense of belonging with each other, and they explored parts of the county to gain a deeper understanding of what was there now and in the past. They are already preparing for their next backpacking trip next month.

Mountain Sun Community School is an independent, nonprofit school serving Preschool through Middle School and utilizes Montessori and other methods to provide a unique, inspired education for each child. Mountain Sun Community School is currently enrolling students for the 2017-18 Academic Year. For more information, please visit www.mountainsunschool.org or call 828.885.2555.

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