By Stephen Smoot
Many years ago, middle schoolers in Pendleton County made a yearly trip to Thorn Spring Park. There, teachers and others used hands-on techniques to teach children natural science and history.
Now, teachers and administrators have brought back that program for a new generation inquisitive about their surroundings in Pendleton County. Pendleton County Schools was joined by federal and state agencies, such as the Farm Service Agency and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, as well as educational non-profits like Experience Learning.
The event, in which more than 100 students participated, took place at the historic Ananias Pitsenbarger Farm in Dahmer, currently the home of Loafer’s Glory bed and breakfast and Dry Run Distillery.
Jeff Munn, who co-owns the property and businesses with his wife, Teresa, said, “This is so much fun. Once you get them engaged, it’s full blown.” He also took students on tours of the two-century-old complex of houses and work buildings that lined what was once a main road in the county.
The tour included a bona fide ghost story.
Schoolchildren came out on a day with comfortable temperatures and brilliantly blue cloudless skies. They had several learning stations featuring elements of history, natural science, environmental science, and more.
Becka Myers from Experience Learning described her station that took students on an “incredible journey.” They got to follow the movement of a single drop of water through its natural cycle. She used the station to teach children about concepts like riparian zones, “to be mindful of folks downstream from us.”
At a different station, Jeff Kersch built on the topic. By the farm’s pond, he discussed how water sources started small and enlarged as they joined other streams, such as when Thorn Creek flows into the South Branch. He also explained how the presence of certain insects showed that the water was sufficiently cool and clean for fish, such as brook trout.
On the hillside above the farm, foresters Rosey Santerre and Curtis Betty used a unique game to teach students how to identify different native trees.
First, Santerre taught them different details to look for in determining the type of tree. Then one student led another to their assigned tree. Their hands touched the leaves and felt the texture of the bark.
She then asked them to point out their tree, and asked, “How do you know it’s your tree?” In some cases, the children shared details about the tree branches. Others pointed out different leaf structures or whether they had serrated edges or not. Serrated edges, for example, determine the difference between maple and sugar maple trees.
Then the group moved on to examine a hickory tree with “shag bark.” Santerre explained that “we have several species of rare and endangered bats that live in caves during the winter.” She added that some will use the shag style bark as shelter when they give birth to their babies.
Jennifer Taylor-Ide, who helped Jacqueline Propst, dean of students at PCM/HS, to organize the event, said, “My personal goal is for them to connect things and connect it back to the county where they live.” Additionally, she discussed the value of out of door educational experiences, explaining that “getting them outside is always interdisciplinary.
Munn hopes that bringing students to the Pitsenbarger Farm becomes an annual tradition. He concluded that “we want the entire county to know about the Pitsenbarger Farm. It’s part of the county history.”