AUGUST 28, 2014 – Thanks to a field trip to the Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University, students at Forsyth Middle College know a good deal about the history of Native Americans living in the Carolina Piedmont when European explorers arrived in the 1500s.
Junior Aaron Patterson was impressed by the way the Catawba – or The River People, as they called themselves – would obtain the porcupine quills that they used for needles. They would throw a deer skin over the porcupine. The quills would penetrate the deer skin. They would pull off the deer skin and – voila! – a fresh supply of quill needles.
“It was clever that they used skins they already had – resources they already had – to get more resources,” Patterson said.
He also liked learning that, unlike some games we play today, the Catawba played games designed to help them hone the skills they needed in life.
Junior Andrew “Drew” LeFever liked learning more about Catawba tools and how they were made. “The arrow – that was one of my favorite parts. I thought it was good that the arrowhead was so precise.”
Patterson and LeFever were among 40 Middle College students who headed to the museum on Wednesday morning. Teachers Lisa Nakawatase and Nicole Gottfried divided the students into two groups.
While Patterson, LeFever and others in one group learned about the Catawba from museum educator Tina Smith, the museum’s interim assistant director, Sara Cromwell, sent the other group on a treasure hunt through museum exhibits. Armed with a set of clues, the students found answers by examining exhibits that included Chinese ceramics, weavings from the Asian trade route known as the Silk Road and artifacts discovered on archaeological digs along the Yadkin River.
Middle College is a small high school – no more than 100 students – for junior and seniors on the campus of Forsyth Technical Community College. “It provides a more personal, smaller environment for students,” Gottfried said.
Many of the students also take classes at Forsyth Tech.
Patterson transferred to Middle College this year. “I wanted to be able to have a quiet learning experience with fewer distractions,” he said.
Eric Morris, who is a senior, is in his second year at Middle College. “The relationship between the teachers and students is really nice because of the smaller classes,” Morris said.
His favorite “treasure” so far was a photograph of a Chinook salmon that was part of a photographic exhibit about Alaska’s Yup’ik people. Why was that his favorite?
“I like to fish,” Morris said.
Katie Helms, a senior who transferred to Middle College this year, was also enjoying the hunt. “I like finding things so I like scavenger hunts,” Helms said.
She also participates in geocaching, in which people hide containers filled with small items in the woods and elsewhere and others use a GPS (Global Positioning System) devices to find them. They may take an item from the container and leave something in return.
Helms enjoys being outdoors. Since seventh-grade, she has been walking part of the Appalachian Trail each summer, and, if all goes according to plan, she and her father, David Helms, will complete the trail next summer.
Helms transferred to Middle College for her senior year because the liked the learning environment that it offers. “I wanted a different type of environment to help me transition into college next year,” she said.
Senior Kate Vale was particularly enjoying her finds in the Chinese ceramics exhibit. “My family is artistic and musical,” Vale said. “We have a lot of Asian art.”
This is her first year at Middle College. She chose it, she said, because she prefers the small classes the school offers.
The group also included junior Oliver Sutton, an aspiring pilot who participated in the Tom Davis Aviation Academy this summer. He is also taking flying lessons with Piedmont Flying Training. One day, he hopes to be a pilot for the Air Force.
Sutton said that he is part Croatan, a Native American tribe that once lived on the North Carolina coast, so he liked learning more about another tribe.
Although most students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools started class on Monday, Middle College, which is on the campus of Forsyth Tech, has been in session since Aug. 11. One goal for Gottfried and Nakawatese is to get the students out into the community more this year.
“I think it’s important to get students off campus and into our community and to take learning out of the classroom,” Gottfried said.
Nakawatese said that a field trip also gives students a chance to get to know each other better. “I feel like it builds a sense of family and community with them,” she said.
The trip to the museum aligned perfectly with the school’s curriculum, she said. The students who participated in Smith’s class about the Catawba are studying American History. The students in the second group are studying World History, and, when Smith work worked with them, she talked about the Silk Road. Knowing about the people who came before us is essential to understanding the world today, Smith said. For example, clocks, paper, firecrackers and more than one religion can be traced to the Silk Road region, she said.
You can find out more about Sutton’s experience with the world of aviation at the school system’s good news blog Your Permanent Record