6th Grade Trip to Pine Mountain Settlement School

Pine Mountain_Main ImageWhat do folk dancing to live bluegrass, tall tales, crawdads, cave exploration, and coal have in common? All were a part of the 6th graders’ Outdoor Education experience last week at the Pine Mountain Settlement School nestled deep in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky. Students made the five-hour journey via coach bus with instructors Brandon Doble, Anne Holmes, Lindsy Serrano, Alex Taylor, and Shelly Jones. The students spent the week in small groups studying the past and present inhabitants of the region, flora, and fauna. Courses included Native Americans, Early Settlers, Stream Ecology, Forest Ecology, a Night Hike, the Summit Hike to the top of Pine Mountain, Orienteering, Storytelling, Folk Dancing, Appalachian Toys, and Geosphere. Students enjoyed their homemade meals in Laurel House, many of the ingredients for which had been grown in the organic gardens at the Settlement School.

On this particular trip to Pine Mountain, the 6th graders became the first group from St. Francis to have a live bluegrass ensemble for the Thursday night folk dance. Dr. Sky H. Marietta, Ed.D, the Curriculum and Instruction Specialist at Pine Mountain, said “KET ought to be here tonight filming this!” Some of the region’s finest bluegrass musicians – banjoist John Haywood, fiddle player Brett Ratliff, and guitarist Sean Stamper – played traditional folk tunes for the dance, performed a few “extra” tunes for the students’ enjoyment, and explained the history of their instruments within the historical context of the region.

These up close and personal experiences with nature, place-based education, and first-hand experiences with artists and activists working in Appalachia today are among the many reasons we greatly value the St. Francis Outdoor Education Program that includes the trip to the Pine Mountain Settlement School. On the Goshen Campus, we often speak about the importance of “Leave No Trace,” but when students see on a large scale what happens when humans leave quite a large trace, such as the evidence of mountaintop removal coal mining when they hike to the overlook, the phrase takes on new meaning.

Should you or your family be interested in visiting Pine Mountain Settlement School on your own, the Settlement School provides ongoing weekend and summer programs for individuals, groups, and families. For more information, visit the website. Just be sure to tell them that the St. Francis 6th graders sent you!