In June, Tracey Valach, of Snowshoe, approached the Pocahontas County Board of Education with her idea for Nature’s Mountain Classroom – a curriculum to expose students in third through fifth grades to outdoor adventures like skiing, hiking, biking and kayaking in the beautiful landscape of Pocahontas County.
On September 2, the program begins with the fourth grade students and the boating adventure curriculum.
“I knew this was going to be a large undertaking, but I never expected all of these pieces to come together so beautifully,” Valach said last week. “It’s been exciting, and it’s also been a unique mix.”
Valach spent the summer seeking out funds, presenters and locations for the year-long program and has been thrilled with how well it has come together.
Each grade level has a specific curriculum which includes an outdoor activity. It is a one-day a week for four weeks curriculum taking the students out of the classroom and into the outdoors.
“My big thing is, this is not a field trip,” Valach said. “We’re simply moving the classroom and doing whatever they should be doing – they’re going to be learning just as if they were in school. They’re going to be getting their free lunch just like they would in school. We’re just doing it in an alternative way.
“We’re bringing in all of these awesome professionals from the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection], the Forest Service, WVU Extension, the local bike shops and Camp Hidden Meadows,” she added.
Along with exposing students to fun activities in the county, Valach said the program will also show students the job opportunities and professions they could have right here in their home county.
“They’re going to be learning from people who have this knowledge as part of their profession,” she said. “They’re contributing to society, and they have great paying jobs right here in our area. They get to talk about this cool stuff that kids might be passionate about. I think it just connects on so many levels that I really feel strongly that it’s going to be of benefit in countless different avenues.”
As the school year began, Valach attended the back to school open houses at the elementary schools to sign up students and introduce the program to their families.
“Some families were like, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve heard about this’ and were all on board,” she said. “Some families had never heard of it and were quickly excited, and then other families were more reserved. We know that every family’s comfort level is different, so I feel like it’s important for them to know we’re going to keep the kids safe.”
A few parents were concerned because their child did not want to do the physical activity, but didn’t want to miss out on the curriculum. Valach said, not to worry.
“This is not pushing kids beyond their comfort level where they’re scared,” she said. “It’s putting them in a place where they can get comfortable and then they can enjoy. It’s every kid at their own pace and exposure to where we can do all of these things. The physical activity – whether it’s biking, skiing, hiking, boating or what have you – it’s one piece of the whole day.”
Although the program hasn’t officially started, Valach is already planning for next year and additional programs that didn’t get included this year.
“We’ve talked about doing a multi-generational night that would be more of a family share night,” she said.
“We’re going to try to put that into action next year, once we have this first year under our belts. There are ways that we could let kids share their knowledge.”
Valach’s enthusiasm for the program is palpable and contagious, spreading to the teachers who are excited to see the program be part of the school system’s curriculum.
“I’m super energized by how positive the teachers and parents have been,” Valach said. “It’s been great. I’m excited.”
That excitement has also spread to the sponsors that are providing monetary and educational support. Sponsors include: The Pocahontas County Board of Education, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Snowshoe Resort Community District, Dramas Fairs and Festivals, Coby Brown, the Mayhew Family, Casago and ReMax Realty.
The schedule for the 2021-2022 Nature’s Mountain Classroom is as follows:
Fourth grade – Boating adventure
Content Areas: West Virginia History and Watersheds
September 2 at Watoga State Park
September 9 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort
September 16 at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
September 24 at Buckeye Bridge
Fifth grade – Biking
Content Areas: Solar System and Health
September 30 at Camp Hidden Meadows
October 7 at Stillwell Park and Discovery Junction
October 14 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort
October 21 at Green Bank Observatory
Third through fifth grade ski lesson
December 9 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Second grade – Skiing
Content Area: Weather and Literacy
February 24, March 3, 10 and 17 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Third grade – Hiking
Content Areas: Ecosystems and Plant Study
April 28 at Yew Mountain Center
May 5 at Elk River Touring Center
May 12 at Camp Thornwood
May 19 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort