Another year for Kids in the Creek
CANTON — It's not every day that eighth-graders use the word "awesome" to describe school — but Kids in the Creek isn't just any day in class.
As Waynesville Middle School student Tony Duckworth explained, the experience of learning about (and wading in) the Pigeon River is a "real good time."
"You wouldn't think there's anything out there, but there is," he said Thursday morning, his waders still wet from the rushing water.
Looking just as surprised, his classmate, Mark Wiggins chimed in.
"It's just amazing what there is in the water," he added. "Most people think there's just fish. There's a whole lot more."
This moment recognition is what Kids in the Creek, created for all eighth graders in Haywood County Schools, is all about. And Eric Romaniszyn is happy to say that he sees it every year. As the director of the Haywood Waterways Association, which has put on the event since 1997, he has front-row seat to the effect this hands-on field trip can have on youngsters. In class, before they head out to the river, they're just your typical "cool eighth-graders" he explained.
"But when they come out here, the 'wow factor' hits them," he said, "and they revert to second-graders."
That morning, that metamorphosis was everywhere. While just about every teen grumbled, joked or screamed as they suited up in their dank waders, by the time they began walking down to the stream, they started to change, with a palpable excitement taking over. When they reached the water's edge, most of the horseplay and even the sarcasm stopped. They looked eager and ready to explore.
Divided into two teams, they then careful shuffled into the middle of the creek. One group watched and helped as fishes were stunned with the "shocker," an electrical rod attached to a backpack that looks like something out of "Ghostbusters." The other group stirred up the riverbed looking for fish and bugs. After a few minutes, both camps returned to dry land with their catch, which was then studied, prodded and gloated over.
Within a few days, the youngsters will quantify the health of the river based on these findings. But — spoiler alert — as the waterway always proves to be very clean, this experience is far more about the engaging journey than the scientific destination.
For many of these teens, Kids in the Creek might just be a temporary but important antidote to all that middle school entails, from its florescent lighting to its social structure.
It just feels good to be "getting out" of the classroom, WMS student Ashley explained.
"I learn better outside, like, hands-on," she said.
Fellow classmate Jordan Golden agreed. Already an experienced fisherman, she sported her own fancy waders as she stressed that she's "cool" with this whole experience.
"I'm probably one of the very few girls who isn't grossed out by this," she said, adding that she might even kiss a fish — one of the dares volunteers always pose to the youngsters.
Whether she did or not is unknown, but every year at least a few students do. It's unbelievable moments like that that remind Romaniszyn of what a difference this day can make to these teens.
"We're always told it's one of the most memorable experiences from eighth grade," he said, with an understanding grin.