Area teachers have discovered that student learning and retention of information is greatly boosted by active student involvement through active participation through field trips and outdoor activities. In the past, such activities have been viewed as rewards for classroom work. Teachers now know that the activities themselves contribute greatly to student knowledge and greatly increase student scores on achievement tests. A student that observes nature on Magazine Mountain, visits history at Fort Smith National park or writes a poem about visits to the city park develop memory pathways in the brain that stick with them forever.
Magazine Mountain is one of the most popular locals for student visits during the fall months. In the last year, Guy Fenter Education Cooperative, in collaboration with Arkansas State Parks and local schools have organized field-trips for groups from Waldron, Booneville, Lavaca, Hackett, Magazine, Scranton, County Line, Clarksville, and Paris. Many of the younger students began the day at the visitors center where one of the local park interpreters provide local history or present programs on subjects ranging from local plants and trees to bears. Dr. Curtis Varnell of the coop generally organizes history and science tours which take students to the high point of the mountain or on a loop into bear hollow, a little-used trail on the western slope of the mountain.
Paris middle school annually conducts a two-day field trip on the mountain for all eighth grade students. Using a unit developed by June Gilbreath, the students work math problems associated with the mountain trail, learn history as they visit the old home and hotel sites, and write poems about what they observe.
Students from Hackett, Paris, and Magazine have visited the Old Fort and Judge Parker Courtroom in Fort Smith. The trip usually involves a visit to Judge Parker’s court and a reenactment of a famous court case, visit to the old jail, a ride on the trolley, and often a visit for an ice cream in the museum soda shop.
Other area students have visited Petit Jean Mountain, conducted an eagle watch and count on the Arkansas River, visited the coal mine museums, or gone through a lock and dam. Eight local schools will participate in Student Assistant Day at the Huckabee Nature Center later this fall. The day is organized around developing student and teacher relationships by actively participating together in activities ranging from kayaking, archery, to outdoor science.
Whatever the choice of activity, students realize real benefits from getting outside, getting physical and mental exercise, and learning from “real world” experience.