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Rep. Warren tours North Rowan Muddy Sneakers class

RICHFIELD — Dressed and ready for a long day of constituent meetings across the 76th District, state Rep. Harry Warren was a sight to behold Monday on the trails of Stanly County’s Richfield Park.

The suit-and-tie-clad lawmaker had followed North Rowan Elementary School students across district lines to observe one of six expeditions offered by Muddy Sneakers this year.

The nonprofit group partners with schools across the Piedmont and Western North Carolina to provide supplemental science instruction through outdoors, hands-on field trips. Schools served pay a small percentage of programming costs, at just $10 per student per trip.

In Rowan County, seven schools have partnered with the program — North Rowan, China Grove, Isenberg, Overton, West Rowan, Knollwood and Granite Quarry elementary schools, for a total of 616 students receiving services.

And if Piedmont field office Director Elise Tellez has her way, that number is sure to increase — the reason for Rep. Warren’s Monday visit.

“It helps when you see it first hand,” Tellez said. “Sometimes explaining our program can be hard. It’s a lot different than a trip to the nature center or science center.”

Instead of having a facility for students to visit, Muddy Sneakers helps fifth-graders explore public lands within a 30- to 45-minute drive of their campus — state parks and forests, county parks and national forests, to name a few. The trips take learning outside the classroom for real-world application, said Tellez.

Warren said he’d become interested in the program after hearing about it from fellow Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-117. The program reminded him of a similar experience he’d shared with his daughters — a days-long experience that included fishing and camping.

Warren said after speaking to Muddy Sneakers Executive Director Ryan Olson, he knew he wanted to see the process in person and explore the possibility of providing funding.

“I think where we’re at right now, the legislature in the state has turned the economy around to the point where we see these surpluses,” Warren said. “We should be in the position now to do projects, invest in things rather than just meet our fiscal responsibilities.”

During Monday’s Muddy Sneakers expedition, students used the woods and active water of Richfield Park to explore the scientific concepts of forces and motion. Trees became key components of bear bag pulley systems. Fallen leaves and twigs became the structures of miniature boats or rafts for racing.

Warren said that seeing these activities and the students’ response showed just what an impact the program has. Investment in it, he said, is sure to bring long-range returns.

“You can tell by the kids’ involvement here: they’re paying attention, they’re not wandering off, they’re learning,” he said. “I think that’s the ingredient you have to have. If you’re going to make a fiscal investment like this, you have to see there’s an educational return on it.”

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