Carroll County Outdoor School director retires Geary Myers leaves after 33-year tenure

December 23, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The magic number came three years ago, when Geary Myers reached the 30th year of his career. Most educators retire with a nice pension.

But he kept going as director of the Carroll County Outdoor School.

"I was thinking, 'Yes, I'm here. I've made it,' " said Myers, 55. "But at the same time, I enjoyed it and I didn't want to give it up at that point."

But this week, he hands over the reins to his successor, Steven Heacock, who has been a teacher at the school for 21 years and was appointed by the school board to succeed Myers.

With a toddler grandson, two grown children and a wife who for years stayed home so he could spend as many as four nights a week sleeping at the school, Myers wants to spend more time with the family.

"If you count all the nights I've been away [from home], it's been years," he said.

His wife, SuHelen Myers, a teacher at Westminster West Middle School, took several years off from her career to raise their two children, despite her husband's consuming schedule.

The Outdoor School runs like a summer camp -- but all year long. Started in 1964 at River Valley Ranch and since moved to Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center, its student body is the county's approximately 2,000 sixth-graders.

They come in groups of 80 to 100 for a weeklong sleep-over, learning about nature and building character as they live and eat family style.

Every morning, Myers and the staff wake the students with the Irving Berlin song, "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."

They learn to say "please pass the scrambled eggs" to each other. They share clean-up duties and are responsible for making their bunks and putting away their clothes at the end of the day.

Golden opportunity

Myers started right out of college as a teacher in the Outdoor School's first year.

Then, with fewer students, it operated only in the spring and fall. In the winter, Myers taught physical education in elementary schools.

When he was interviewed for the job, he was asked what he'd like to be doing in 25 years. He was so excited that he answered that he'd be happy to stay there his whole career.

He did.

That has meant more repetition than other teaching jobs. Other teachers have to teach a course year after year, but Myers has to teach them week after week.

"I have not grown tired of it," he said. "It could be one of worst jobs in the world or one of the best."

For him, it has been the latter. It might be the same curriculum lTC repeated each week, he said, but it is also a different group of children. Each group has its own chemistry. The seasons change, too, from the extremes of a very warm early September to a freezing January. If school is canceled for snow in the middle of a week, the Outdoor School continues as usual.

"I remember being in a cabin at River Valley Ranch and just about freezing with three blankets on top of me," said Brian Lockard, superintendent of schools in Carroll County. He started his career as a sixth-grade teacher in Carroll County one year after the Outdoor School opened.

He became good friends with Myers, whom he described as a gentle, low-key and affable man who had a talent for getting the kids together in song at mealtimes.

Although teachers aren't required to sleep at the camp with their classes, many choose to spend at least one night there. Even some principals, like Larry Barnes of Oklahoma Road Middle School, spend a night there occasionally with students from their schools.

Fun mixed with learning

The three teachers at the school try to mix fun with learning. One day a week, the students hike into the woods and split into teams to build shelters out of a blanket and whatever logs and other natural materials they can find. The teachers tell them they'll be sleeping in those shelters that night, but once the task is done, they are told to dismantle the shelters. They go back to their cabins to sleep.

The staff rotates spending the night at the camp, putting in 60 to 80 hours a week each.

In addition to sixth-graders, the school also plays host for day trips and one-night stays for elementary special education students, who go again when they're in sixth grade.

The Outdoor School staff works with the classroom teachers during the week, and classroom teachers usually expand on the work when the children return to their middle schools, Myers said.

Myers said the character-building aspect of the school is as important as the academic enrichment. Often, when he goes to speak to middle school parents to help them prepare their children for the outdoor school, a few parents say they remember well their experiences there.

Myers has by now even had a grandparent of a sixth-grader say the same thing. It was yet another clue that maybe it was time to retire.

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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