When Georgia leaders piled off Bus Trip IV at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center near Eatonton, Ga., they learned a valuable lesson: good teaching isn't just in classrooms.
The bus trip brings together business, education and government leaders with a common aim. Each is committed to making Georgia education better.
The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education sponsored the trip. Throughout the week of Nov. 11, the leaders toured 23 of the state's most innovative classrooms and learning centers.
The Rock Eagle stop brought the leaders to the 4-H environmental education program. This nationally recognized model program, begun in 1979 by the University of Georgia Extension Service, has a simple plan. It lets nature teach the classes.
Each year, more than 40,000 students leave their schools and reconvene classes outdoors. They meet at 4-H centers around the state: the Rock Eagle woods, Jekyll Island seashore, Wahsega mountaintop or Tybee Island marshes.
The leaders saw firsthand what it means to learn from Mother Nature. As they sat in a circle, an environmental education teacher let them meet a king snake and a boa constrictor. The braver students touched and even held the snakes.
Another class toured the Natural History Museum. There Diane Davies, who developed the program and the museum, said they welcome students to interact with the exhibits.
"Students will never hear 'don't touch' in this museum," she said. "They learn so much more when they can experience things."
One more class listened intently as costumed teachers from the living history program showed how to cut a shingle.
"They used red cedar," a teacher said, "because it lasts so long. The shingles would probably be around long after the house under them crumbled."
Anne Hancock, chair of the steering committee for the bus trip, called Rock Eagle "a wonderful example of partnering and caring. We are proud of what you do here."
The tour moved on to other shining stars of the Georgia educational system. Its aim was to applaud success in Georgia schools and communities, educate state leaders about local efforts and help communities join the statewide effort to improve education.
The 23 stops were chosen from almost 100 requests to the GPEE.