Trail to Every Classroom

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“Trail to Every Classroom” by Herb Brambley

I recently attended the National Park Service Teacher Conference called A Trail to Every Classroom. The 2009 cohort included 49 participants from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. In addition to teachers from the above mentioned states which the Appalachian Trail traverses, there was staff from three other trails; Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the proposed Mississippi River Trail, and yes, you guessed it, the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

So, what is this Trail to Every Classroom? TEC is a workshop administered by the National Park Service which helps teachers develop a curriculum for their school using the Appalachian Trail as a recreational, environmental and educational resource. The Trail to Every Classroom curriculum has several functions, 1) to get students outside, experiencing the environment, 2) to get them actively involved in their community performing a needed service, and 3) to teach students the unique history of their community so that they know why and how their community originated. These goals are accomplished by using two teachings methods; Service Learning and Placed Based Education.

Who benefits from TEC? Everyone! That’s the great thing about using these methods to teach students. The students aren’t learning in a vacuum. They are actively participating in their learning as active members of their community. Students also benefit by using all of the content areas during their involvement. The very nature of TEC lends itself easily to a multidisciplinary approach. As an example of this, during the TEC summer workshop, teachers could attend a technology session where they learned to use a GPS as a teaching tool in their classroom. They also had the opportunity to attend a science oriented environmental quality monitoring session where they were learning about the effects of air pollution on vegetation and soil, doing a macroinvertebrate study in water and in the soil.

And what was I doing there? Other than playing a lot of music every night and eating the fantastic meals prepared by the kitchen staff at the National Conservation Training Center, where the conference was held, I did a presentation on the Iditarod Race and I worked on developing a TEC program for Alaska with 3 wonderful people; 2 from the United States Forest Service and 1 from Alaska Geographic. As many of you already know, especially those that attended the winter conference, I love to play my guitar and I use a lot of music in my classroom. At the conference, I met someone from Vermont who had a mandolin and an accordion, and another person from Missouri who played the harmonica, and it wasn’t long before we had a 3 man band. You should have been there!!!

The National Guard Can Provide a Unique Drug Education Program at Your School

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I want to write specifically about the programs provided by the National Guard in the area of drug, alcohol, and substance abuse. There are several programs available through the National Guard designed to suit your specific needs in the areas of leadership training and drug education. Even if your school currently has a drug education program, I believe it would be advantageous to research available programs through the National Guard. Perhaps your school has been doing the same drug education presentation to your students for several years and your students are becoming a little bored with the repetition. Maybe the teachers are too. Check out the National Guard Drug Demand Reduction (DDR) program. It will provide a fresh approach to drug education for your school.

During the teacher’s conference this past summer, I had the privilege of experiencing first hand several of the activities that are used in their lessons. To say the least, I was extremely impressed with the activities and how the lessons are tied in to drug education and leadership training. Before one of the lessons, we were told that we could learn a lot from a rubber chicken. Well, I was very skeptical. But, as it turns out, rubber chickens are very, very intelligent. Rubber chickens can teach you the importance of communication. Really!!! If you want to learn how, check out your local National Guard DDR program.

Another lesson which was done on a low ropes course required our group to work together as a team to complete the course from one end to the other. It was virtually impossible for one person to complete the course alone. In order to maintain balance on the cable we were walking on, an overhead rope had to be swung to you so that you could hold on. As you progressed to the next section, another overhead rope was swung to you by the person in front of you. In this way, you were able to make your way along the entire course. Almost like swinging through the trees with Tarzan, Jane and Cheetah.

Our final activities were on the high ropes. When I say high, I mean about 40 feet high. Talk about a different perspective on things. High ropes require trust. Trust in yourself, trust in the people on the ground, and trust in your partner on the ropes. They also require confidence and the ability to overcome obstacles. Not just physical obstacles, but emotional and mental as well. I don’t believe there is any way to prepare yourself for the mental challenge of a high ropes course. The feelings and challenges that are created on the high ropes are completely different from anything else most people experience in life. It is a unique feeling that almost overwhelms you as you work with your partner to exchange places as you walk a telephone pole 40 feet above the ground. There is nothing like a high ropes course when you want to build confidence, problem solving skills, and the ability to overcome new challenges one might face in any aspect of their life. In Pennsylvania where I live, the high ropes are done at Fort Indiantown Gap as a residence program. Don’t let me scare you away from these programs with my stories of the high ropes. The National Guard has a variety of programs available.