Classes in the Field!
Last week, students spent 5 days base-camping and having classes in the beautiful Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We call this week out Classes in the Field, and it is regularly cited as a favorite activity by teachers and students. Coming to Cataloochee has been a tradition for the last few years at the Outdoor Academy and this year, for the first time, our students left Cataloochee and directly began their 9-day backpacking trip. This means that when they return to campus this weekend they will have been out for 13 straight days!
We arrived in the Smokies on Monday and stopped at an overlook where Ted gave an overview of the geology of the valley, pointing out our campsite, Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee (main settlement zones). Ted also talked a bit about the cultural history of the park and its first Ranger- Mark Hannah. After setting up camp, we drove to Big Catalochee and wandered among the Elk, and explored the Palmer Chapel, the old School House, the Caldwell House and its signature barn. Some students hiked up to the Caldwell Cemetery up the hill and to the Woody House, deep in the woods. We all met up in the Caldwell House where Ted ran down the history of the prominent Caldwell family and Hannah P shared some funny stories she read about one of the Caldwell’s children. After we headed back to camp for dinner, students started a game of “hot-seat,” an interview game that continued each night of the trip.
Tuesday we stayed around the campsite during the day and teachers offered unique, cross-disciplinary classes that we felt matched the cultural and environmental history of the area. Ted offered a section on ecology, Laura discussed map-making and compasses, Susan taught survival skills and Josh, Hannah & Katie Harris lead a lesson on Appalachian Ballads. Students also had some time to journal, play games and enjoy the beautiful creek.
Wednesday was devoted to an all-day hike through Little Cataloochee. Students visited old cabins and Ted discussed the basics of how someone would have built a log cabin around the turn of the century. We stopped at the ruins of Will Messer’s place and students put their archaeology caps on, combing through the woods looking for evidence of human settlement. We also stopped at the church at Little Cataloochee where Josh and Katie talked about Shaped Note/Sacred Harp singing and Katie lead the group in song. The day ended with an epic off-trail hike down the mountain that ended at our campsite.
Thursday morning saw another period of classes and workshops, where students where able to learn about astronomy with Ted, work on watercolors with Hannah, play music with Josh, or write poetry with Katie. After lunch students went into the woods to delve into and celebrate their inner “wildness” with Michael and then they had some solo time in the woods. We “bomb-proofed” camp in preparation for the thunderstorm that came in that evening and got ready for Trek before bed.
Then Friday morning students got all packed up and hit the trail with the Wilderness Staff, as the Teaching Faculty returned to campus. It was a great week outside and our students are full of new knowledge and skills, great memories and some wonderful stories. We’re sure they will have more upon their return from Trek!