A promise fulfilled: retired teacher reunites with Erwin Middle School students to revisit accessible nature trail

Published 12:04 am Friday, May 6, 2022

By Madeline Wagoner


ROCKWELL — A retired teacher reunited with one of her former classes  Thursday to fulfill a promise she made before the pandemic.

Kim Shuping’s 2019 sixth grade class is now about to start high school, and she was not about to let them leave without one last visit to the nature trail for an outdoor science lesson.

Shuping, who retired in 2020, now substitute teaches for the school with a passion for environmental sciences and teaching students about the importance of caring for the Earth. Her style of teaching focuses on hands-on learning which gave her the opportunity to take students behind the school for an outdoor hike every fourth quarter.

Activities include knowing how to spot poison ivy and oak, finding different bugs hiding under logs and catching tadpoles on the edges of the creek before releasing them back into their home. The students are challenged to identify the trees they pass during their hike including hickory, sweet gum, maple, poplar, cedar, pine and dogwood.

During her last year of working full-time, she had a student in her class whose disability required the use of a wheelchair.

The trail behind the school has freshwater creeks that the students had to jump or walk over to navigate the area. With a handicapped classmate, the students knew something had to be done so everyone could experience the outdoor lessons.

They worked as a team to solve the challenge and resulted in carrying an old door at the school to the trail along with a wood pallet to lay across the creek for the student to ride over. While this was successful, Shuping and her sixth graders began thinking of a safer way to make the nature trail handicap accessible.

“My goal for the nature trail is to use all my strength to make it possible for my friends to participate in the activities Mrs. Shuping teaches,” said Brandon Cook, one of the students who participated in building the bridge.

Shuping reached out to Larry Eagle, East Rowan High School’s core construction and sustainable carpentry teacher, to team-up with her class in the construction of the bridges. The sixth grade class collaborated with East Rowan’s carpentry students and spent three class periods in October 2019 building seven bridges at different spots over the creek where the trail was located. Cozart Lumber Company donated the resources to build sturdy, wheelchair-accessible platforms as a safer way for students to maneuver the trail since they had to jump over the creek before.

“It’s just great. Most of the kids in the class went to Erwin, so they were so excited to the school,” Eagle said when asked about the reaction of his class at the time.

While the students were able to spend time on the trail during the building process of the bridges, the annual fourth quarter science lesson hit a roadblock as it was scheduled during the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

“I was heartbroken to spend my last quarter as a teacher over Zoom,” Shuping said. “I never got to say goodbye to my kids or take them to the trail they worked so hard on. My kids were the reason for the bridges, they made it possible.”

She promised her sixth grade class she would teach them a science lesson on the refurbished nature trail once they could safely be together again. Shuping fulfilled her promise on Thursday with her students who are now in eighth grade to teach them about tropism, insects and decomposers, the effects of erosion and aquatic life.

The kids watched the growth of trees, found wildlife such as salamanders and beetles around the water and walked the whole length of the trail in search of habitual life.

“Social studies is my favorite subject, but science is so interesting,” said student Israel Bledsoe, who had a particular fascination with the birds they saw during the hike.

The trail adventure lasted for an hour and afterwards the children expressed their gratitude to their sixth grade teacher, Ms. Shuping.

“I really care about them, they worked hard and earned it. I want kids to dream big and do their dreams,” she said. “They were all so excited for this and they earned it, it’s the closure I’ve needed since retiring.”

For the students, being together with their previous teacher to explore local habitats and plant life was a memory to wrap up their time at Erwin.

“It was a great way to reminisce on the conclusion of my middle school years,” said eighth grader Jacee Eudy. “I remember being out here in sixth grade with my friends so being back with Ms. Shuping brought back good memories.”

Shuping plans to continue educating and encouraging kids to pursue dreams and emphasize hard work. She thanks the eighth grade teachers at Erwin Middle School for giving her the opportunity to keep her promise with the 28 students of the class.