Mountain Trail Outdoor School (MTOS) is one of Kanuga’s hidden treasures. Tucked away on the fully winterized Bob Campbell Youth Campus, MTOS operates from August through May, offering overnight field trips and day trips for public and private schools. As environmental education grows more in-demand, MTOS instructors seek to inspire visiting classes to care for the environment.
The experiential curriculum, designed primarily for fourth through eighth grades, meets many different states’ standards. Courses cover natural science, adventure programming and community building. Students encounter uncommon and extraordinary details in nature—from streams to lakes, bogs and mountain vistas—while discovering diverse Blue Ridge Mountain ecosystems.
Guided through a natural outdoor laboratory
Joey Terlizzi, full of energy and enthusiasm, leads Mrs. Latham’s fifth grade class from Pinewood Prep (Summerville, SC) into the forest and 2700 feet up a mountain. He totes two small dry erase boards stuffed in his backpack, along with several teaching aids and plenty of water. Teacher Kristi Latham brings up the rear of the hikers, with ten excited ten-year-olds and three parent chaperones in between.
Joey broaches the subject of trail safety and etiquette first. Everything is a lesson. Stay on the trail (or suffer the itch of poison ivy). Follow the leader. Mind the roots, and don’t run. Most essential to the lesson, he teaches the children how to look, to notice things in the forest, and in the world around them.
“I think what we’re doing is important because our hands-on approach makes the material more concrete for these students, allowing them to really grasp what they are learning in school. It is so vital, especially for the younger generations, to be aware of how intricate and interconnected the natural world is, so in the future, we can integrate ourselves in a more constructive way,” says Joey Terlizzi.
Joey is just one of the well-trained instructors at MTOS. All of the instructors are experienced in environmental education and working with children. It’s all about stuff. Joey captivates his audience, encouraging them to “follow the stuff.”
Follow the stuff – the Forest Ecology hike
“Stuff is connected, and stuff goes places.” Joey explains the stuff he refers to is basically energy. Everything he teaches is broken down in a comprehensible, humorous, memorable way. He even draws on the white boards to aid in visual learning and uses repetition as the class hikes along the trail, reemphasizing the concepts they learn.
Joey stresses that nothing goes away in nature’s continuous energy cycle and the interconnectivity of ecosystems throughout the trek. Cycles are a theme in environmental science. Animated and genuinely enthused, he describes to the fifth graders how trees use chlorophyll to absorb light and turn it into matter, thus energy (stuff) produces sugars (other stuff).
The fearless leader delves into death and decomposition. As the class kneels in the dirt and examines a decaying tree, he asks them to identify stuff that returns nutrients into the soil. They determine that the FBI (Fungus, Bacteria and Invertebrates) of the forest are responsible for this process.
A special summit
After an interactive hike, Mrs. Latham’s class takes in the view at the top of Long Rocks. Joey allows the children to be with themselves and their thoughts in nature.
The teacher, Kristi Latham, explains that Pinewood Prep has been coming to MTOS for 13 of the outdoor school’s 20-some years. “The kids really enjoy it—they get so much out of it—and the curriculum is great for fifth graders.”
She has personally been to MTOS with her class for three years. “Mountain Trail Outdoor School’s courses go well with our science curriculum. Besides the science content, there are so many service learning activities that go along with the MTOS program. The instructors are fantastic, and they ask higher level thinking questions that really engage the children.”
To get in touch with Mountain Trail Outdoor School’s Director, Meghan Hull, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.