By Barbara Cohen
LLCA School Director
Now in its 12th year, did you know that Lake Lure Classical Academy is situated on a 34-acre campus that serves as a jewel of outdoor learning opportunities within the stunning Hickory Nut Gorge?
Hickory Nut Gorge is a steep, low elevation gorge located on the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the geographical boundary between the North Carolina Piedmont and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The gorge is situated over this geographic dividing line.
What that means for our students – from the youngest kindergartener to the high school senior – is that they have a rich and abundant backyard of learning experiences throughout their education at LLCA.
Since 2021, school administrators and teachers have embraced an educational curriculum that features far more time spent outdoors learning about the environment, sustainability, and nature studies. Research shows that students who spend time outdoors and learning about the natural world around them are happier, healthier, and more well-rounded students.
This year, the school leadership team has added several new classes to the middle and high school curriculum. High school students can choose courses such as Outdoor Survival Skills, Hickory Nut Gorge Ecosystem, Horticulture, Agriculture of Western NC, and Environmental Science. This year, a group of high school students decided to form our very first Future Farmers of America club and they are actively involved in bringing their knowledge and passion to the school campus. From chicken coops to beehives, middle and high school students are embracing nature as part of their overall learning experiences at LLCA.
Middle school students are working on building the school’s first pollinator garden. With help from community members and parent volunteers, the pollinator garden has native species of plants that attract native pollinators. This garden also doubles as an outdoor classroom with tree stump seats, an outdoor platform for the teacher, and whiteboard for lessons. The school is working on making this pollinator garden a monarch waystation that is nationally recognized. In addition to honeybees, monarch butterflies are pollinators that allow students to learn about the NC standards in science from the textbook to the real world around them. Students are able to watch the life cycle of monarch butterflies and experience the production of honey from the hives.
Even more exciting are the outdoor educational experiences that our kindergarten through eighth grade students are taking part in this school year. Students in elementary and middle school have designated garden spots on campus that provide vegetables and herbs to eat while they learn about the plant cycles. There are two garden clubs at school that maintain our vegetable and herb gardens. This year, the clubs plan on expanding their raised beds into other areas around the school. The K-8 students also take part in several hiking clubs and explore the Gorge during these hikes.
This year, LLCA established a new partnership with Mountain Roots, an outdoor education program from Brevard, NC. This partnership provides all K-8 students with learning opportunities that focus specifically on nature and the outdoors while integrating NC science standards into the lessons. K-8 students are also taking part in weekly activities with our environmental education teacher, Evelyn Warner. Mrs. Warner is a certified environmental educator and uses her knowledge and passion of the outdoors to teach students about the importance of our environment. Our K-8 students learn why the environment is important to their lives and how they contribute to an eco-friendly life. Our educational program not only encourages students to learn and play outdoors, it creates problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they learn about sustainability and the environment.
LLCA wants to expand our community partnerships. Would you be interested in helping maintain our pollinator garden over the summer? Do you have native plants that you are willing to donate to beautify our school campus? Do you have a passion for helping students to learn about the outdoors and their environment? We are looking for volunteers from the community to help us teach our students about the importance of the natural environment around us. Contact Barbara Cohen, School Director, to get more information or to become a volunteer.