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From the mountains to the sea

Morganton Day School fourth-graders visit Portsmouth Island. Photo courtesy of Treesie Cape

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By Rita Thiel

The weather can flatten the best laid plans, but not so for the fourth-grade class from Morganton Day School, Morganton, Burke County, who, despite a ferry-shutting down “blow” the evening of April 2, traveled to Ocracoke the next day as part of their Outer Banks tour.

Morganton fourth-grade teacher Carley Smith brought her 14 students on a week-long, curriculum-supported field trip to the Outer Banks, and Ocracoke was a not-to-miss destination.

North Carolina’s fourth-grade curriculum explores the state’s early history and culture, and class trips across the state give students an up-close look and hands-on experiences that can’t be found in a classroom.  Ocracoke’s fifth graders also travel across the state exploring areas much different from their island home.

“Ocracoke has such a unique character. Life on this island is so different from life in the mountains and it’s wonderful for the students to experience that first hand,” Smith said.

After arriving on Ocracoke, the group met NPS Volunteer Andy Hawkins at the lighthouse for a talk given inside the iconic structure. Most of the students had never been to the ocean before, let alone seen an operating lighthouse.

They were all captivated by Ranger Andy’s tales of lighting the oil lamps long ago. They noticed that the lighthouse is crooked, too, just a bit at the top. (No one was quite sure of the reason for this, though noted the offset door at the top.)

Morganton fourth graders get a ride to Portsmouth. Photo courtesy of Treesie Cape

Peter Vankevich, local radio host at WOVV, invited the class to visit the radio station and share, on-air, a poem the students had composed based on their trip to the Outer Banks.

Treesie Cape, curriculum director and former fourth grade teacher at MDS, who accompanied the group, made sure the school had the broadcast information so they could tune in and hear their classmates on the radio. Vankevich gave each student a moment at the microphone.  

Since this trip for the Morganton fourth grade has become an annual event, Rudy Austin was again enlisted to whisk the group to Portsmouth Island where the buildings were opened briefly for the students to peek inside.

“This is something you just can’t describe to the kids,” Smith said. “When they can see it, then they get a better understanding of what it was like to live in an island environment on Portsmouth Island.”  

Among the differences between the coast and the mountains, this year’s group noticed almost immediately that Ocracoke uses plows for sand, not snow.

“ I was surprised to learn about the shipwrecks and Blackbeard’s ship,” said one student, Ethen. “I can’t believe World War II was so close to the coast.”

The Morganton group caps its day with dinner at Jasons Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Treesie Cape

In previous years, students from Morganton were paired with students from Ocracoke’s fourth grade class. Cape began the tradition in early 2007, having contacted Ocracoke’s fourth grade teacher and arranging a pen pal relationship between the two classes.

In May of that year, Cape brought her students to Ocracoke, joining their island counterparts for a personalized island tour, including the British Cemetery Ceremony.  

Some of these children remained friends, keeping in touch over the years through social media. One pair of pen pals, Katie O’Neal (Ocracoke) and Sana Mohiuddin (Morganton) are an example.

“When we were seniors in high school, we were considering being roommates in college,” O’Neal said in an email. “We ended up going to different schools, though. I think it is so cool that Sana and I are still connected from our fourth-grade pen pal experience. I think it’s important to show students what their peers in different areas of the state are doing. Connecting with pen pals, especially in elementary school, shows students how important relationships are and can improve their communication skills.”  

O’Neal, a 2015 Ocracoke alumnus, will graduate in May from NC State with an education degree in middle grades social studies.

The group ended their Ocracoke trip with dinner at Jason’s Restaurant.

Fourth grade students from Morganton Day School, Morganton, Burke County, visit WOVV 90.1 FM, Ocracoke’s community radio station. Photo: P. Vankevich