Chehala Andriananjason, Western North Carolina program manager at Muddy Sneakers, discusses the benefits of small-group learning, taking in the natural world and the best places to hike.
What gaps in standard education does Muddy Sneakers aim to fill?
Small-group, student-centered and immersive science learning is often difficult to achieve in the elementary classroom. Muddy Sneakers supports our partner fifth-grade teachers in traditional classrooms by offering supplemental STEM curriculum, small-group experiential learning expeditions on nearby public land and virtual instruction. Small-group peer discussions, inquiry and observation practices and hands-on experimentation are all key to Muddy Sneakers’ outdoor learning. During expeditions, students apply and expand their understanding of the N.C. Science Standards and engage in hands-on STEM and nature learning to transform science concepts into memorable real-world experiences.
What surprises you most about kids’ reactions to your programs?
The most surprising and magical moments are seeing which experiences bring out students’ curiosity, joy and excitement. It’s easy to expect excitement when students find a salamander beneath a rotting log or catch a crayfish from a mountain stream, yet it never fails to delight and surprise me when students fall in love with silent reflection and observation. Even the most excitable fifth graders feel the magic of being fully present and taking in the natural world.
Where is your favorite place to get outside in WNC?
I love the solitude of the outdoors, and I rarely go on a hike without taking out a field guide and getting to know a new plant or fungus. While WNC has wonderful waterfalls and mountaintop views, some of my favorite personal places to visit are tucked-away coves. A few of my favorites are trails off Avery Creek or Headwaters Road in Pisgah National Forest that come to life with fungi, mosses, wildflowers and birdsong.