Mountain Sun Students Learn Life Skills with Eight Owls Farmstead

By Nick Pearl | Brevard, NC

Digging with pick axes and shovels isn’t a common curriculum feature, but for the sixth and seventh grade students of Mountain Sun Community School, it is. Every Friday afternoon, Mountain Sun students get this opportunity. For these students, working up a hard earned sweat affords a multitude of lessons.

Every other Friday, Nick Pearl, or “Mr. Nick”, Middle School Assistant Teacher, and Gretchen Hogan, a parent volunteer, take the students on the short trek to Eight Owls Farmstead where Rain and Mika, co-owners of Eight Owls, offer lessons on permaculture practices. One week they may be clearing brush to add terraces to a steep embankment, the next they may be problem solving how to keep the newest litter of baby bunnies from escaping their community style enclosure.

On Fri., Feb. 10th the students completed a couple of projects. First, after a lesson in composting techniques, each student took a pile of cardboard and lined the path between garden beds to act as a weed suppressant before adding a layer of food and garden waste and hay.

“We learned letting our boots break down the compost processes it faster,” Rain says. “We learned…” is a familiar beginning to Rain’s lessons as trial and error act as their greatest teacher.

This language opens the door to numerous teachable moments and life lessons for Mr. Nick. “Whenever I can teach my students that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow, I take advantage of it. If my students can leave Mountain Sun Community School with a healthy relationship with risk and reward, then anything is within their reach.”
After finishing the composting walkways and fixing some holes found by escaping bunnies, they returned to digging swales to capture and utilize every drop of rain. Mr. Nick took this as an opportunity to explain proper pick axe techniques while also incorporating the physics of leverage and momentum.

“Can we see the bunnies again before we go!” one student yells after completing the difficult task of breaking up some problem rocks. These young farmers enjoyed using pick axes and shovels more than Mr. Nick would have ever expected. The smiles represent a grand unintended consequence.

On the opposing Fridays the students bring these lessons back to their campus located at the Brevard Music Center. With Hogan’s acumen for gardening design and Mr. Nick’s math and science teaching expertise, the students learn how to turn their time at Eight Owls and their school work into practical life skills. Fractions, surface area, and proportions become more than just abstract concepts and become meaningful tools to accomplish real life goals.

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