Park Ranger Tom Randolph’s enthusiasm for the lessons that Mount Jefferson has to offer students in Ashe County is contagious.
“My main goal is to inspire kids through nature,” Randolph said, “And the only way to do that is to get them outside.”
This goal lead Randolph to pursue his recently completed Masters Degree from Montreat College, for which he developed a field trip activity guide and curriculum based on Mount Jefferson for the Ashe County Public Schools.
In 2012, when North Carolina established a new core curriculum for all schools, Randolph challenged himself to keep the educational programs that Mount Jefferson has to offer on par with what the schools are required to teach.
“I realized there would be a need to develop a new curriculum to meet the needs of the teachers and students geared towards the new standards,” Randolph said, “Because we’re a state park and the schools are state schools, it’s a win-win situation for the two agencies to work together for the benefit of the kids.”
Randolph did extensive research in creating the field trip activity guide in order to determine the best practices for bringing Mount Jefferson’s educational programs into classrooms.
“Studies show that by teaching students outdoors they actually retain more information and a more in depth understanding of the information than they do in the classroom alone,” Randolph said, “Data shows that students that were given hands-on activities remembered information over a year later.”
Randolph worked with university professors at Montreat and local public school educators in Ashe to develop the Mount Jefferson curriculum.
In one lesson Randolph created and has already put into practice, elementary students build landforms out of modeling clay and are able to see physical representations of weathering and erosion.
Another lesson finds older students on the first overlook going up the mountain drawing chalk maps on the sidewalk to study measurement and scale.
Even local social studies classes have the opportunity to learn about the effects that landforms such as Mount Jefferson have on the culture of Ashe County.
“We can bring kids up to Luther Rock and look out and they can see where the streams are, where the roads were built” which are factors which dictated the travel routes of early Ashe County residents, Randolph said.
During a recent elementary school lesson on myths and legends, students from the local schools came to Mount Jefferson to build fairy houses out of twigs and other gathered materials.
Phil Howell, director of curriculum for Ashe County Public Schools, reviewed and endorsed Randolph’s masters project writing that he “did an excellent job of aligning the standards with activities that incorporate many avenues from technology to higher levels of learning and student achievement.”
The thank-you cards from local teachers expressing their gratitude for the Mount Jefferson field trips which surround Randolph’s desk are a testament to the successful reception he’s seen from Ashe County Schools.
Randolph recently gave a talk in Kentucky for all of the southern State Parks to provide a model for those parks to develop their own curriculum in conjuncture with local schools.
The park provides these field trips to the schools at no cost, and in the past the “Friends of Mount Jefferson” have been able to contribute funds to cover the costs of the school buses used for transportation from the schools to the park.
“We’re ready for more field trips,” Randolph said, “Teachers can call us anytime to set up programs for their classes and we’ll take care of everything.”
The rangers on Mount Jefferson offer plenty of resources for adults to enjoy the park as well. Admission is free and rangers are available any time for groups who would like to do night sky or night hike programs upon request.
For more information, call Mount Jefferson State Park at (336) 246-9653 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.