21
Jul
2017

WNC Magazine Features Muddy Sneakers

Muddy Sneakers is featured in WNC Magazine’s July/August Education Issue. Read the story below or find it on your local newsstand!

WILD SCHOOL: For 10 Years, Muddy Sneakers Has Shared the Magic of Outdoor Learning
Writer: Phil Morgan

Student takes field notes while on a Muddy Sneakers expedition

When Muddy Sneakers’ fifth-grade students climb off the bus, they find themselves in a place that is exotic and sometimes a little spooky. For many Transylvania County kids, a science-based learning expedition into Pisgah Forest is a daring adventure.

“There are kids in Transylvania who have Pisgah Forest in their backyard and have never been there,” says Ruby Compton, program director for Brevard-based Muddy Sneakers. The nonprofit, celebrating 10 years this year, takes local students on daylong field trips to acquaint them with the outdoors. During this trip, the kids scream and squirm at the sight of spiders and worms. Others look up at the trees and ask questions like, “Who made all this?”

“The disconnect to nature is clear,” says Compton. “They have all the knowledge in the world,” she says in reference to their laptops and smartphones, “but they lack confidence in the real world.”

A typical day in the woods starts with the students breaking into groups of roughly 10. The instructor reviews wilderness safety and talks about the lessons and excitement that await.

Muddy Sneakers instructor and students stand in front of a North Carolina Public Schools school bus

Out and About: Muddy Sneakers is working with almost 3,000 students from 44 public schools in North and South Carolina, introducing many of them to the wonders of outdoor learning for the first time.

As the students hike, they scour the trail for specimens and explore creek banks. Eventually, the lessons commence and concepts like convection, ecosystems, velocity, and other standard fifth-grade curricula come to life in the wild. Out and About: Muddy Sneakers is working with almost 3,000 students from 44 public schools in North and South Carolina, introducing many of them to the wonders of outdoor learning for the first time.

Taking on the scientific process in wild places offers not only a boost of self-esteem but also improvements in standardized test results. According to Olson, every school that has partnered with Muddy Sneakers has seen its science test scores rise, and two schools had 100 percent of their fifth graders pass the state assessment.

Encouraged by numerous positive trends, the organization decided to begin tracking its own data. Two years ago, Muddy Sneakers teamed up with North Carolina State University to implement yearly evaluations that it will use to measure environmental literacy. The organization is seeing a number of inspiring trends, including a sharp uptick in the self-efficacy of both female students and those with learning disabilities.

When Muddy Sneakers’ fifth-grade students climb off the bus, they find themselves in a place that is exotic and sometimes a little spooky. For many Transylvania County kids, a science-based learning expedition into Pisgah Forest is a daring adventure.

“There are kids in Transylvania who have Pisgah Forest in their backyard and have never been there,” says Ruby Compton, program director for Brevard-based Muddy Sneakers. The nonprofit, celebrating 10 years this year, takes

Students in the Piedmont of NC hold up their Muddy Sneakers field journals

For the Record: Muddy Sneakers participants keep a field journal to record their findings in national forests and state parks.

 

local students on daylong field trips to acquaint them with the outdoors. During this trip, the kids scream and squirm at the sight of spiders and worms. Others look up at the trees and ask questions like, “Who made all this?”

“The disconnect to nature is clear,” says Compton. “They have all the knowledge in the world,” she says in reference to their laptops and smartphones, “but they lack confidence in the real world.”

A typical day in the woods starts with the students breaking into groups of roughly 10. The instructor reviews wilderness safety and talks about the lessons and excitement that await.

As the students hike, they scour the trail for specimens and explore creek banks. Eventually, the lessons commence and concepts like convection, ecosystems, velocity, and other standard fifth-grade curricula come to life in the wild. The kids also tackle experiential tasks like hanging bear bags, brewing tea from White Pine needles, investigating habitats, testing natural insulators, and racing handmade boats down streams. Later, the instructors allow students to sit and reflect, write creatively, or draw. There are also moments of spontaneity.

Muddy Sneakers Instructor and summer camper sit crouched on a boulder catching insects in a mountain stream

“You could learn from a book, a blackboard, or a teacher, but until you actually live it and until you actually experience it, you don’t know.” –Muddy Sneakers cofounder Aleen Steinberg

“Sometimes the kids just need to play in a stream,” says Compton. “For ecosystems review, we’ll get in the stream and search for critters. We take their interests and weave instruction in.”

Throughout the course of the academic year, Muddy Sneakers takes small groups from 25 Western North Carolina public schools on six of these expeditions to destinations like Pisgah National Forest, Gorges State Park, and DuPont State Recreational Forest, as well as to private lands protected by conservationists. “For the best interest of our children, we have to look beyond the box,” says Muddy Sneakers Executive Director Ryan Olson. “The box may be the classroom, and we are an extension of the classroom.”

Muddy Sneakers instructor holds different rocks up for an Isenberg Elementary student to examine

Hands On: Muddy Sneakers encourages students to interact directly with the natural world, bringing new life to lessons taught in the classroom. Here, instructor Davis Hayden examines differences in the types of rocks found at Eagle Point Nature Preserve with students from Isenberg Elementary in Salisbury.

Taking on the scientific process in wild places offers not only a boost of self-esteem but also improvements in standardized test results. According to Olson, every school that has partnered with Muddy Sneakers has seen its science test scores rise, and two schools had 100 percent of their fifth graders pass the state assessment.

Encouraged by numerous positive trends, the organization decided to begin tracking its own data. Two years ago, Muddy Sneakers teamed up with North Carolina State University to implement yearly evaluations that it will use to measure environmental literacy. The organization is seeing a number of inspiring trends, including a sharp uptick in the self-efficacy of both female students and those with learning disabilities.

Read the article on WNC Magazine

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