Students at the Appalachian State University’s Academy at Elkin are used to hiking — it’s part of their motto of Honesty, Integrity, Kindness, and Excellence. In June, the school was recognized for its literal hiking when the Academy at Elkin was named “North Carolina Year of the Trail School” by the North Carolina Great Trails State Coalition.
The recognition is for the Academy’s work of establishing a trail to connect the school to the Elkin Public Library and Elkin Main Street, as well as creating outdoor educational opportunities for both students and the community.
“Nature has been a great classroom and so much learning occurred beyond the traditional four walls of a classroom this past year,” said Emma Hatfield-Sidden, principal of the Academy of Elkin. “We are committed to exploration-based learning and encouraging our students to make their own trail!”
Watch the Academy’s exploration-based learning model in action, which was featured at the North Carolina Trail Days festival!
The trail project was not completed alone. The Academy at Elkin had help from two community partners: Constructive Learning Design and Elkin Valley Trails Association.
Constructive Learning Design provided professional development for year-round experiential learning, as well as assisted with designing lessons to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students. Additionally, they worked with staff and students on project ideas to connect our community with the school, and worked collaboratively with community partners, such as EVTA.
Elkin Valley Trails Association helped with providing lessons to students on nature, trails, and the greater community. Plus, they met with teachers to discuss how they can best support the school and students to strengthen the Elkin community.
The mini-Mountaineers spent the 22-23 school year dreaming, planning, and creating the trail through our exploration-based curriculum.
Exploration-based learning uses students’ strengths, interests, and knowledge to develop relevant and integrated content while embracing growth mindset practices.
The lab school strives to promote discovery, inquiry, and critical thinking through authentic learning experiences and incorporating service-learning opportunities through meaningful partnerships with the university and local community. This approach fosters leadership opportunities and increases student agency to develop responsible citizens.
“Learning extends far beyond four walls, and we truly saw our mini-Mountaineers explore their curiosities over the past academic year,” said Hatfield-Sidden.
As for the next steps, the Academy has big plans to continue to integrate the trail into its daily instruction with pollinator gardens, water features, wild life habitats, seating areas, and so much more. They will do this work in collabroation with App State’s Office of Sustainability.
Hatfield-Sidden added, “We can’t wait to build on that next year with the help of our families and community partners!”