Vereen Brown, a third grade teacher at Fort Mill Elementary School, hopes to bring observation and excitement to her students through nature.
Brown, who has been teaching in Fort Mill for 29 years, said nature has always been a big part of learning in her family, which is native to Fort Mill. Her father, Billy Barron, would take her out onto the Anne Springs Close Greenway to teach her about things that often go unnoticed by untrained eyes.
Barron was the greenway’s first ranger, Brown said.
“He opened my eyes to actually see the things in the woods,” she said.
It was a concept Brown brought into her teaching. Brown said she takes her students out on the greenway as much as possible.
“I want to increase their observation skills,” she said. “They love it.”
Brown said her students can always come back and talk about what they have learned. Her goal is to get them to share.
“If I teach one (student), hopefully it teaches two,” she said.
Marty McGinn, assistant superintendent of curriculum and human resources for Fort Mill schools, said nature can open students to learning.
“Learning about nature enables a child to explore, learn and enjoy the world around them,” she said. “And what better place than the Anne Springs Close Greenway, where nature has been preserved in its purest form.”
Brown uses the greenway to teach her students about weather and erosion, pollination, season changes and other concepts.
Fort Mill’s history is also evident on the greenway, and Brown covers lessons about the Underground Railroad and slavery. The students also learn to write about what they have seen.
Brown said her goal is to help the next generation appreciate nature.
“We just have to get outside,” she said. “It’s good for the soul.”
Brown said many of her students don’t have access to nature as in past generations, with neighborhoods replacing trees in much of the area.
The greenway provides a way to bring nature into the curriculum. It’s concept Brown said was facilitated by Dottie Metzler, the first environmental educator at the greenway.
“She encouraged and taught teachers how to use the greenway as a resource,” Brown said.
Nature allows students to express themselves and become leaders, said Kelly Murphy, education specialist for the greenway.
Murphy, who taught for 12 years at public schools in Charlotte, said the greenway lets students break out of their shells and learn in new ways.
“It’s where they thrive and excel,” she said. “It gives them permission to get dirty.”
The greenway also is a way to preserve nature for future generations, Murphy said.
“We want them to appreciate what they have and not squander it,” she said. “We’re losing our green space.”
The greenway offers programs for kindergarten through fifth grade classes and it is working on expanding that reach, Murphy said. The greenway is available to teachers as a resource any time they want to use it.
“We’re right here in everybody’s backyard,” Murphy said. “We have a strong relationship with Fort Mill and Indian Land.”
The greenway’s programs also help combat bullying and stereotypes through team-building exercises, Murphy said. The greenway will introduce a second-grade weather program this coming school year and recently purchased a microscope for students to use there, Murphy said.
Murphy said the time students spend in the woods pays many dividends in the classroom.
“It helps the kids comprehend what they are trying to teach them,” she said.
The greenway also offers guided hikes for all residents.
Lorree Riley, a Charlotte resident, said her family often comes to the greenway to camp and hike. Riley said her daughter Lydia Riley, 6, who attends Charlotte Elementary School, can both have fun and learn.
“It’s nice she can stay busy. There is no place for boredom out here,” Riley said. “There is so much they can get from it on their own.”
Fun Loving Youth En-Route to Success, the greenway’s after-school program, combines education with fun. FLYERS serves nearly 600 students from 80 area elementary schools, Murphy said.
Murphy said the greenway aims to reach schools beyond Fort Mill
“We’d love to have classes out here every day of the school year,” she said. “We’re tired of being a secret. We want everyone to know we’re here and available.”