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Knollwood Elementary students enjoy trek to the mountains

By Maggie Blackwell

For the Salisbury Post

Sean McGuire, a fourth-grader at Knollwood Elementary School, summed up his mountain trip in simple terms: “I was missing something in my life until this trip.”

Principal Shonda Hairston took advantage of some flexibility afforded to Rowan-Salisbury Schools by its district renewal status when she planned three experiences for each grade level this year.

Trips have included fishing and visiting the N.C. Zoo and Discovery Place. The fourth-graders’ mountain trip included a stop at Linville Caverns, a trip to Biltmore Estate, and a walk across the Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain.

“For some, it was a first time away from home or the first time in a hotel,” Hairston says. “I knew they’d behave; they are generally well-behaved. They did just fine at meals and the hotel and sang or chanted most of the way on the bus.”

One stop on the way was Antler Hills Farm, where crafts artists told about their arts. Hairston particularly remembers the blacksmith and broom maker.

“You could hear the pride in their voices.” Hairston says, “They started as journeymen and had to practice a craft. To demonstrate they had reached professional status, they had to create a masterpiece with a trademark or touchpoint. I tweeted, ‘Are we allowing our students to create a masterpiece? To develop a touchpoint?'”

It was touching, she says, to watch the students witness the pride the people took in their work.

“Many of the trips are related to science or social studies,” she says, “but I always find a poem. I think my teachers have had an ‘aha’ moment. We gave the fourth-graders mountain facts and asked them to devise word problems.”

As for the students, it seems to be a trip they won’t forget.

“At first, I wasn’t going to go,” says Sanai Mayo. “I was nervous because I’ve never been out of town without my mom, but I got courage and went. I have memories from the cave and the Swinging Bridge. I was kind of scared. I had been in a hotel before, though, so I already knew how to be in a hotel.”

Ava Lewis compared her expectations to reality.

“It kind of freaked me out because I thought we were above the clouds,” Lewis says. “I thought Linville Caverns would just be rocks, but it was actually all kinds of shapes. There is only one other place in the world that gets that dark, and that’s deep in the ocean. I thought the Biltmore would be just a big house, but it was … huge.”

Reese Poole has a head for numbers.

“It was big, and the doors were huge,” she says of Biltmore. “There were 250 rooms and there were 65 fireplaces. There were six floors and it was all decorated for Christmas. There was a 35-foot tree, and the ceiling was 65 feet high. The Biltmore is history, and we did research before we went.

“At Linville Caverns, we saw weird rocks. It was so dark you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face.”

Several of the boys talked about being afraid of heights and of feeling emotional on the bridge. One boy said he cried a little, but no one laughed, so he felt better.

“It was definitely worth it to get the kids out into nature,” Hairston adds. “For a lot of them, it was just a breathtaking experience.”

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