TOP

Teachers

Blue Ridge

“A Tree-mendous Day”

Our final full day together. Today we headed to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Here we were able to walk among one of the few remaining old growth forests in North Carolina. Some of the trees here are estimated to be between 400-500 years old. We measured many of these Tulip Poplars, the largest circumference being over 20ft around!

Three people stretching a measuring tape around a tree
Measuring the circumference of the huge tulip poplar trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Nine people standing in front of a huge double trunked tulip poplar tree
The group in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

After our hike, we made our way to Yellow Creek Falls for an afternoon of “marathon writing.” The sights and sounds (as well as a refreshing swim) of the waterfall made the perfect backdrop for our writing.

Five people sitting scattered on rocks around a pool at the base of a waterfall
We are writers

We headed back to our yurts for our final group meeting and dinner. We were able to reflect on how powerful this experience has been together and all the ways in which we have grown. We are looking forward to taking these experiences back to our classrooms in the fall.

Blue Ridge

“Hellbendering”

After a very rainy, peaceful sleep, we meandered to the group area for a breakfast of grits, oatmeal, assorted pastries, yogurt and creations with leftover fried chicken.

We loaded up the van to head for the Skinny Dip Falls trailhead. Along the hike, we were educated on identification of the Indian cucumber root, which has an edible root that tastes like cucumber with the texture of a carrot. It’s always beneficial to be aware of natural food elements in your forest surroundings. After a short but brisk hike to the falls, we took in the magnificent wonders of the waterfall.

We left Skinny Dip Falls and went back to camp to prepare for snorkeling in the Davidson River for a peek into the habitat of the hellbender salamander. We arrived at the Pisgah National Forest ranger station for an informational meeting with Lori Williams, a wildlife biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. She educated us on everything hellbender. We even got to meet Rocky. Rocky is an almost fifteen-year-old hellbender that has been raised in captivity and is used for educational purposes.

Following our visit with Lori and Rocky, Ben and Reid (wildlife technicians) accompanied us to the river, where we suited up in warm clothes or wetsuits and snorkeled in the frigid water. Our group goal of spotting three elusive hellbenders in the wild was accomplished.

Thankfully, we warmed up in dry clothes and continued our adventure to Dolly’s where we revelled in luscious ice cream cones. We finished our eventful day with dinner in Brevard.

We returned to camp exhausted but satiated and ready to greet tomorrow with excitement and eagerness to continue to learn from Melissa, Megan, Chris, and one another.

Blue Ridge

“We Are From”

Foreground is a pool of clear water. Rocks slope upward from the pool towards a cascading waterfall. Pine trees and rhododendron frame the falls and pools on either side.

Widow’s Creek Falls at Stone Mountain State Park

We are from daypacks.
From Crazy Creek chairs and Nalgene bottles.
We are from North Carolina (mountain, piedmont, and coastal plain).
We are are from white pines, five needles per fascicle, open cones, fast-growing.
We are from group norms and trip goals.
From Melissa, Megan, and Chris.
We are from lifelong learners and explorers.
From “choose your own adventure” and “leave no trace.”
We are from Mother Nature and unplug, recharge.
We are from schools and museums.
Trail mix and Clif bars.
From eating our first meal in a bag to Chris showing us how to slide down Widow’s Creek Falls.
From using our five senses to notice, wonder, and reminisce.
Nature journals, data collection, cell phone pictures, and group stories.
We are from different backgrounds and experiences, but we all share the desire to inspire new explorers.

Foreground is a pool of clear water. Rocks slope upward from the pool creating a natural waterslide. A person is standing at the top of the slide, and another person is sliding down. Pine trees and rhododendron frame a waterfall and pools on either side.

Waterfall sliding at Widow’s Creek Falls at Stone Mountain State Park, NC

Looking down into a plastic zip top bag containing a freeze-dried meal that has been rehydrated. A spoon is sticking out of the bag towards the camera.

First meal of the trip, rehydrated meals in a bag!

Blue Ridge

“Seeing the World Through Each Others’ Eyes”

“It’s been a rough year for all of us – teachers, students, and parents alike. Some of us fit in all 3 categories. Some of us have endured personal trauma or have been close to colleagues who have. The loss is overwhelming, and I’m not solely talking about loss of life. I’m speaking of a deeper loss we can all share. A loss of freedom and exploration; a loss of continuity and tradition; a loss of social interactions and mental wellness; a loss of smiles, hugs and high fives; a loss of normalcy. Yet throughout this loss, I feel we have gained something else. I have been amazed at how we have united to support each other emotionally and spiritually. I have seen everlasting friendships formed through synchronous trials and tribulations. We’ve all learned quite a bit more about technology than we thought we’d ever learn in our lifetimes. We’ve learned our own strengths and weaknesses, and how to survive on both.

This “adventure” has reminded me that there is more to these kids than reading fluency and math strategies. We were suddenly forced by the universe to adapt to our new surroundings without warning, and what we discovered while in this new phase was ugly, yet simultaneously wondrous. We got an 18-month long sneak peek into our kids’ lives, inside their homes, their personal relationships – we got to see the world through their eyes

One thing that remained consistent throughout virtual or face-to-face teaching was spreading my love of hiking and the outdoors to my kids, even to students in other classes. I would share my adventures on the trails (along with photos) with my students, especially if it was something really cool (like rappelling off of an 80’ cliff, ziplining through the trees, or summiting a peak alone at sunset) and explain to them jubilantly how I was conquering my fear of heights while immersing myself in nature. It lit up their faces. I want to continue to bring that joy and wonder to my students, to instill that curiosity, to see the good in the world – through my eyes.

When school ended in May and we said our goodbyes, all I could think about was the one thing that got me through this school year – anticipating the Educators of Excellence Institute in the Blue Ridge Mountains this summer. Learning more about my passion in an environment that has such meaning to me caused me to spend months preparing for this unique experience with fewer than a dozen other teachers from around the state. This, to me, is not work. This is my “play.” This is how I bring nature into the classroom, how I show them to explore. This is how we make connections and see the world through each others’ eyes.”

~Becqui Masters, First Grade Teacher, Central Elementary School, Pasquotank County

 

Lenae Scafidi, Science teacher at Iredell High School in Iredell County, has also been eagerly anticipating her Educators of Excellence Institute by exploring with her family along the Blue Ridge Parkway. She heard we’d be looking for hellbenders and hiking, so she got a head start!

A masked teacher watches a hellbender in a tank

“Hunting” hellbenders at the Western NC Nature Center

 

Teacher and her son hike in a mountain forest along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Lenae had the opportunity to hike with her son earlier this summer along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

Blue Ridge

“Obey Your Way”

“Obey your way” – Dr. Mildred Barya

The team packed up camp at Briar Bottom and headed along the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Asheville for a day at the NC Arboretum.  Arboretum educator Michelle Pearce spent a few hours with us sharing about Citizen Science.  Our view of what we experience in the natural world expanded from our own perspective to the greater world and a bigger picture where all can contribute to the scientific community thanks to technology.  She also gave us a tour of the gardens and engaged the group in activities that we can transfer to our classroom.

Group of teachers standing on the grass

A tree growth game we played with Michelle

We enjoyed a catered lunch on the patio at the education center and then had a delightful afternoon with Dr. Mildred Barya, a professor at UNC Asheville who shared her gift of poetry with our team.  She beautifully led us through a process of engaging our senses in order to create an original poem true to ourselves.  Her approach was surprisingly personal to each team member and we were all moved and inspired by the experience.

Dr. Mildred Barya (UNC Asheville) leads us in a creative writing exercise

We traveled on to Mount Pisgah campground and set up our tents right before the rain.  We shared dinner together and then had our evening meeting.  As we talked, we were in agreement that the group has been wonderfully cohesive and each person has been willing and able to personally share themselves in a meaningful way.  We were twelve strangers from across the state just a few days ago.  But with our love of learning and the outdoors connecting us, we have found lots of fun and also refreshment for the soul.  We will go into the next school year as different educators because of this experience.  It is a unique week and we are all privileged to be a part of it.

The blog title for the day is “Obey your way,” a quote from Mildred.  She was directly speaking about us developing our poems that we wrote this afternoon.  However, this evening we all agreed that this is a fantastic motto for each of us personally.  We all have our different teaching styles and we need to be true to how we educate scholars best.

Mountains cloaked in mist

Our view at sunset from the Pisgah Inn

Blue Ridge

“Birds in the Mist (Net)”

“Thank God I have seen an orange sky with purple clouds. How easy it is to forget that we have the privilege of living in God’s art gallery.”—Erica Goros

We crawled out of our tents before the sun had risen and the owls were still hooting. Why did we get up so early? To see a beautiful sunrise along the Blue Ridge Parkway and to get an early start on our birding adventure.

Sunrise view from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell

Sunrise view from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell

After a beautiful sunrise (that we had to be dragged away from), we made our way to an elevation of 5,100 ft on the Big Butt trailhead to start banding birds. Ornithologist John Gerwin taught us about his research on the Hermit Thrush and then we pulled out the nets to actually catch and band some. We used recorded bird calls and a wooden decoy to draw in a male bird, and it was only a matter of minutes before we had one caught in our spiderweb-like net. Once we had him in hand we confirmed his sex, took his weight, aged him by looking at his tail feathers, and added two different types of bands to his legs. After a morning of calling and netting birds we had tallied a Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Sarah with a Golden-crowned Kinglet that we caught in the mist net.

Sarah with a Chestnut-sided Warbler that we caught in the mist net.

Although bird banding was amazing, the draw of going to the summit of the highest mountain east of the Black Hills of South Dakota led us to our next destination, Mount Mitchell. Once we arrived at the summit, we learned about the history of Mount Mitchell and the establishment of North Carolina State Parks. We were joined by Amy Tomcho, local birder and Audubon representative.  We then took a hike along the summit nature trail where we learned about salamanders, owls, and the spruce-fir forest.

The group at Mount Mitchell

The group at Mount Mitchell.

One of many salamanders we caught!

One of many salamanders we caught — a pygmy salamander!

We ended our day with nature journaling, hunting for salamanders, exploring the South Toe River, and an amazing group dinner at the campground.

Blue Ridge

“Inquiry Fever”

Inquiry Fever:  The fervent desire to explore, observe, and learn.

We all have “Inquiry Fever”!  The excitement is contagious.  We spent the day in Stone Mountain State Park, starting with a hike up to the summit for a geology lesson on how the region was formed.  Along the way, we encountered a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, a Red-spotted Newt, a deceased Eastern Red Bat, fence lizards, a goldfinch, and so much more!!

Next, we went to Roaring Fork River and met representatives from the NC Wildlife Commission. We put on waders and wetsuits and went seining and snorkeling in the river in order to identify a variety of fish, including a Brook Trout, Smallmouth Bass, and a Redlip Shiner.  We were also able to identify three different kinds of crayfish. It was a cool experience — literally — the water was quite cold! To cap off the afternoon, we hiked to Stone Mountain Falls and splashed in the water there.

We are all learning from each other and especially from our leader scientists.  It is awesome to be among like-minded educators who are willing to stop and explore!  For example, we spent a significant amount of time observing and inquiring about two Broad-necked Root-borer Beetles laying eggs.

We are now gathered together at camp working on our projects and smelling delicious burritos cooking.  Can’t wait for tomorrow’s adventures!

Blue Ridge

“Salamanders Team in the Stream”

Group of teachers in the forest.

Cohort #1: Educators of Excellence

The day started off rainy and dreary but as we packed the vans and headed towards North Carolina’s Stone Mountain State Park the skies cleared. During our trip we listened to a podcast “Ologies — Cervidology.” “Cervid” means neck and is the study of deer. We learned some crazy things like the fact that deer will sometimes prey upon baby birds.

Upon arriving we quickly unpacked the tents and set them up; some of us for the first time ever! We spent the early evening getting to know each other through poetry and self-introduction. We also covered the schedule for our trip and norms.

We spent time getting in tune with our senses and observing the natural wonder all around us. After some exploration, we found a Leaf-footed Bug, a Broad-necked Root Borer Beetle and a raven, and one group found an Eastern Box Turtle. Nature is all around us!

Broad-necked Root Borer Beetle.

Broad-necked Root Borer Beetle — check out those mandibles!


We enjoyed a camp prepared dinner and took a quick journey to the falls to swim in the brisk water before tucking in for the night.

Melissa and two Sarahs from Team Salamander appreciating Widow Creek Falls.

Melissa and two Sarahs from Team Salamander appreciating Widow Creek Falls.