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N.C. schools chief, McGrady to get 'muddy sneakers'

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson and state Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville will trade their suits in for sneakers Monday as they accompany Sugarloaf Elementary students on a learning expedition in DuPont State Recreational Forest as part of the school’s participation in Muddy Sneakers’ environmental education program.

Since 2007, Muddy Sneakers has taken 5th-graders in participating Western North Carolina public schools outside to learn about weather, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, forces and motion, and other state science standards, in an experiential, hands-on environment.

In North Carolina, Muddy Sneakers utilizes existing, nearby protected lands for their outdoor classrooms. Current sites include DuPont, Gorges State Park, Lake James State Park, National Forests (Pisgah and Nantahala Districts), Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Green River Game Lands, privately protected conservation lands and more.

This is the first year Sugarloaf has participated in the Muddy Sneakers program, and the expedition on Monday will be the third of six this school year. Principal Peggy Marshall said she’s already seen positive results from the hands-on learning and outdoor experiments.

“The experiential learning provided by Muddy Sneakers has improved our students’ scores in science,” Marshall said. “Just from the end of the last school year to the end of this year’s first quarter, they've made huge gains.”

“It’s making learning real, and helping them to make connections,” she said.