Activism in Appalachia Field Trip 2021

Every year during their 18 day field trips, the middle schoolers of Arthur Morgan School create a blog, documenting their trip. The students post pictures and write about what they did each day. They get to choose what moments they want to highlight and show off to their parents and friends at home.  The blog is an awesome opportunity to reflect on what they are learning and articulate their feelings about their journey. 

Right now the Activism in Appalachia Field Trip is in on the road. In their own words, here is what our students have to say about the trip so far!

Day 1

The first day of the Southern Appalachian History trip went smoothly, despite rolling out from campus late, and meeting AYCC (Appalachian Youth Climate Coalition) 30 minutes late. We met with two teenagers (one being 19 and the other 16) who are organizers with AYCC to talk about the Yellow Finch Tree Sits, which holds the record of longest tree sit, lasting over two years before being removed in late March this year. We were given a tour around what was originally the camp and the tree sitter’s platforms, a small garden that provided some produce for the sitters. While we were walking around and picking up trash, we were given information and general facts about the tree sits and the prosecution of some dedicated sitters. After we said our goodbyes, we went to stay in the Blacksburg Friends Meeting, to settle in for the night and get ready for biking.
– Harper

Day 2

We had to leave the Meeting House early this morning, due to an impending group of daycare students. this resulted in an hour of and a half of frantic packing and eating, followed by a hasty exit on to the road, where would begin are three day bike trip. This quick departure was hindered by a missing trailer pin, who’s unknown whereabouts would result in us driving for an hour in search of it’s replacement. But eventually we would back on the road on are way to the Cass, West Virginia, the beginning of the Greenbrier River Trail, the bike trail we would spend the next three days on. Of course we would still loose another hour to a downed bridge before we arrived in Cass. Once we arrived in the old abandoned company town we were unlucky enough to find a couple flat tires, as well as a broken bike pump, which would take another two hours to fix. In the mean time we distracted ourselves by organizing of a viking water funeral for a dead mouse we found. In the end, the poor weather and lost time sealed the fate of any prolonged biking we would be doing that day. Instead, we ate dinner in the parking lot and biked down the trail to the nearest campsite, where we would stay the night.

Day 3 

Today we woke up, the packed up all of our stuff to take back to the bus. We had to strap our tents to our bikes and ride two miles to drop them off at our bus that was parked in Cass West Virginia. After we packed everything back in the bus we had breakfast at a covered picnic area that consisted of bagels and cream cheese, after we cleaned up breakfast we started our journey of 12 miles to a campsite to stop for lunch. After we ate lunch we rode yet another 15 miles, we rode through this tunnel that was 511 feet long, we had to use our headlamps to light the way. We arrived at this park called Stillwell Park to camp out for the night, it has a soccer field, baseball field, and even a skate park. After awhile, Trinity and Oscar Rouse started making dinner for us, we had this curry stir fry sorta thing it had rice and veggies. While they were making dinner the others started putting up tents. Then we ate, it was a wonderful meal, and then we got ready for bed. It was so pretty, and I enjoyed biking so much. The views were incredible!

Day 4

This morning we woke up around eight am and ate cream-cheese and egg bagels. After breakfast we packed up our things and got ready to go. We headed out on our bikes for the final ten miles and while our bums were quite sore, the miles went by quickly and the trail was very pretty. Around every three miles we stopped and took a rest, ate some GORP, and drank lots of water. We met Bus Two at our campsite which was very nice and next to the river. Then we ate lunch and set up two of our tents as we were only allowed to have two tonight and one had a less-than-ideal rain fly. Around five pm we decided to drive up to this man-made dam and pond that had several picnic tables and the like. We went up to a covered area and playground and everyone got very excited. All the students played in the playground for a solid hour, taking cover underneath it when rain started falling. Rebecca and Oscar N. made pasta and veggies and everyone sat along a bench and ate dinner together under the covering. After dinner we drove back down to the campsite, piled into our tents, and fell asleep listening to the rain.

– Revie

Day 5

This morning we awoke at Watoga State Park campground. We were early risers and we were all up by 7:00 am. We had granola for breakfast. Not many of the students are fond of it but it was yummy. We took down the tents and loaded up in bus 2 (the best bus ever). We drove around 2 hours but we were early and decided to go to a grocery store the staff went in to store to get food to spice up our lunches. Then we met Federica and Noodles (Natalie). We gave them the trailer full of bikes and helmets and they gave us a cake that was made for Lena’s birthday. We had lunch on the bus. We finished driving to Charleston in about an hour and a half but we finally made it. We walked around the city for a bit to waste time before we had planned to meet the pastor at the first Presbyterian church. The pastor was in a meeting so we decided to walk around and she said it would be great if we came back in about an hour. So we walked to an outdoor market and got some fresh fruit and I got a little succulent. We got back and we looked around the meeting house. We went on a walk near the river and when we got back our generous host ordered us some very good pizza and brought it in the car for us. We ate some cake and had some very good carrot cake and sung happy birthday to Lena (happy birthday, Lenard!!!)
– Ezzy

Day 6

This morning, we had breakfast burritos and drove about an hour and a half to Naoma, WV to meet with Junior from Coal River Mountain Watch. We talked with him and looked at some posters and pictures and then we were planning to see a “reclaimed mine” site but the road was blocked by a tree so we drove to a school near coal processing equipment and a slurry pond. The school was shut in 2014/15 because of unsafe conditions which have caused and cancer and breathing problems. Next we went to a nearby memorial with pictures and helmets of the 29 miners that died in the April 5th, 2010 explosion caused by a pocket of methane igniting after the boss turned off the methane detector in the machine. It was hard to imagine that happening and all of those people dying almost in an instant. Then we drove through an active mine site and looked around from inside the bus. Most of the surrounding hills were lush and green, and the one we were on was just covered in rocks, and parts of the mountain were chopped off; there was also lots of trash all over the site. Our last stop with Junior was at a park where he answered questions and we said goodbye. Then we had a quick lunch and drove back to Charleston and had free time and cleaned the bus. Then we ate dinner and got ready for bed. 
– Morgan

Day 7

Today we started off the day by meeting Peshka, a Co-Director of Holler Health Justice, at a nearby park. We had unfortunately temporarily lost our bus due to mechanical problems, so we walked across the city to meet her. Peshka asked us about our hopes and dreams as young activists and talked about the role she plays in HHJ. After that, we went out for lunch at SUPER WEENIE because all of our food was in the bus (Rebecca graciously paid for our weenies). We then walked (due to lack of bus) across the city to the capitol building where we went on a tour through the Museum of West Virginia, some of which seemed like propaganda. They had some pretty good candy in the gift shop though.
My favorite part of the day was meeting Jay, a local teacher who was mostly responsible for organizing the famous teacher strikes in West Virginia a few years ago. We met him towards the end of the day on the capitol steps where teachers on strike from all 55 WV counties gathered in 2018 to protest the insurance cuts being proposed by the government. He teaches 8th grade, which made us immediately like him. He explained how he started the movement through a facebook page that gained tens of thousands of followers after West Virginia cut teachers’ insurance, and how that page grew into the strike at the capitol. We then walked back to the Presbytarian church and played a ton of knockout at the gym.
– Oscar Rouse

Day 9

Today we had a pretty fun day. We woke up in the morning at a undisclosed location in Charleston, WV and we were all really worried because we did not know if are bus was going to be fixed in time. Luckily it was fixed in time to be able to get our next location the Mine Wars Museum. Which was a really cool place that you should visit. It taught us a lot about the Mine Wars, which was were miners where treated badly so they revolted. The woman who gave us the tote was the great grand daughter of miners who participated in there was really nice. Then we drove for a real long time and then we got to the place where we were staying in Big Stone Gap, VA. This was by far the best place we have stayed all trip because they were really nice and there was this sweet old lady named Fiona and this nice husband and wife named Clay and Val they had a awesome pizza oven which we used to make awesome pizza and ok calzones they also gave us sweet tea which was really tasty I think that It was Lipton sweet tea. Their house was so cool and it was full of weird stuff from all over the world which was so fun to look at and then we went to bed.
-Oscar N