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For 25 years, a natural site for learning

April 25, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING - While passing out fliers to drivers Saturday for the Fairview Outdoor Education Center's 25th anniversary celebration at the entrance to the children's nature school, Alan Shane said he didn't mind that people passed him up.

Humble about his role in Washington County Public Schools' only outdoor school, Shane, a retired county teacher who first took classes full of giddy children to a similar center on Catoctin Mountain in the late 1950s, is called the "Father of Outdoor Education in Washington County," according to the flier he handed to unknowing visitors.

"From the very beginning of outdoor education, I've decided to do what has to be done first," Shane, 72, said of passing out the pamphlets while passing up rain barrel workshops, nature hikes and singalongs unfolding at the center.

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Shane said as a teacher in 1959, "the four walls of the classroom were terrible, so I took the kids up the mountain."

Trips to Misty Mountain on Catoctin Mountain through the 1960s and 1970s evolved into creating the Fairview Outdoor School in 1979 in Clear Spring, he said.

It's walking along streams, digging in the dirt and kicking over rocks and finding salamanders that makes an outdoor education more memorable than a traditional one, he said.

Ed Hazlett, head teacher at Fairview, said he tells every county fifth-grade class and others that visit the school that he and the three other teachers there are "very sneaky" when it comes to learning.

"You think you're having a good time, but the whole time you're here learning something," he said.

Teacher Larry Hayes, who's been at Fairview for the past 17 years, said not to tell anyone that teachers get paid to work at Fairview, a place he said captivates children from the very moment they get off the bus.

"We hope that they would feel more connected to the natural world and less connected to their video game world (after they come here)," he said.

Living together in cabins, learning together in the depths of the forest and eating family-style meals together all are experiences that shed new light on their lives, Hayes said.

The bell that students on kitchen patrol at the outdoor center chimed to alert their peers to meals broke two years ago, Hazlett said. The school replaced it with a gong-like bell. Hazlett hopes to use the old bell as a 25-year memorial, collecting signatures from students who may have rang it.

Shane said he remembers reveling in hearing the high-pitched chatter of children coming home on the bus from an outdoor learning experience. One of the school's first teachers, Doris Poffenberger, 72, said she still cherishes her memories of both Misty Mountain and Fairview.

In a Fairview campfire ring that she led once, Poffenberger said that she told students to be silent and pay attention to their night surroundings. A young boy motioned to Poffenberger and showed her a web that a spider had been spinning to his arm.

Shane said he hopes that the education center will continue to thrive for its students. Because "when it's gone, it's gone," he said.

Shane, looking over at a pond where thousands of children have peered, said he's entertained the notion that Fairview is the "Walden Pond" of the county school system.

"The older I get, the more I begin to think that," he said.

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