Monday, December 2, 2013

Trail to Trail: Leave No Trace on the Boulder Face

My TTEC unit is in full swing! The whole fifth grade hiked the Appalachian Trail 2 weeks ago and saw firsthand the effects of unmanaged graffiti. We have learned that the best graffiti prevention is immediate removal of all graffiti within 24-48 hours of vandalism. Bake Oven Knob -- a beautiful boulder outcropping with amazing views of the Lehigh Valley -- is virtually covered with spray-painted messages, dates, drawings, and names. My students spent about an hour there, discussing who might be vandalizing the rocks and why. They journaled their thoughts and feelings about the content of the graffiti and how it impacts their hiking experience and the view. We continued on the trail in the opposite direction, passed Bear Rocks and enjoyed lunch on the Knife's Edge, another beautiful vista on the trail, named for the narrow trail along the boulders on the ridge of the mountain. We were accompanied by Barbara Wieman, TTEC advisory council and Allentown Hiking Club member, who shared lots of information about the trail with us.

While the AT hike felt long to the children, checking out our huge map of the Appalachian Trail - and the tiny distance we traveled that day - put the length of the trail into perspective for them. Many are eager to get back on the AT with their families and some are already dreaming of hiking the entire length.

We continue to hike on the trail by our school about every 10 days. The boulders on our own South Mountain Trail have recently been defaced with a swastika. Ironically on the day we discovered the swastika, one of my students shared in Morning Meeting that she had finished the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas that morning. She became very emotional as she shared the story with her classmates, who had more knowledge of the holocaust than I had expected. We had a very good conversation about this unfortunate part of history that morning and continued it up on the trail when we discovered the graffiti. We talked about why someone would choose to put a symbol of hate on the boulder up on the rocks and had a really insightful discussion about ways people choose to express feelings.

Last week we took an information gathering hike, recording answers to the questions:
What tools and technology were used to vandalize the boulders?
What locations have the most graffiti? Why are these locations chosen?
What is the content of the graffiti? (We'll create graffiti categories later.)
After climbing all around the boulders to be sure we discovered every bit of graffiti, we hiked back down the trail. Students were assigned discussion partners to talk about the following question on the way down the mountain:
Why do people choose to vandalize the boulders on the hiking trails?
I enjoyed listening in on their conversations as we hiked to the trailhead where we took the time to stop and write a reflection in our journals.

Now we are right in the midst of our investigation into how we can make a difference with this issue. My students identified 4 areas they'd like to take on -- Learning More About Graffiti (research), Getting the Word Out, Preventing Graffiti on the Trail, and Restoring Vandalized Boulders. Student teams have already begun the planning and research phase. Over the next 3 weeks we will be taking action steps to remove and restore graffiti and put all of our plans into action. I'll update on my next blog post.

Alison Saeger Panik
TTEC 2013
Teacher, Grade 5
Seven Generations Charter School
Emmaus, Pennsylvania

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