Reynoldsburg teacher walks the walk to inspire students

Reynoldsburg teacher Cindy Morehart takes a break along the Wonderland Trail in Washingston in 2004, one of the many expeditions she has undertaken on seven continents. Morehart, a reading specialist at Herbert Mills Elementary School, is asking the school board to approve a sabbatical in 2009 that would allow her to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail and create classroom projects and a physical fitness program in conjunction with the effort.

When it comes to educating and inspiring children, Reynoldsburg teacher Cindy Morehart is willing to go the extra mile – 2,650 of them, to be exact.

Morehart, a reading specialist at Herbert Mills Elementary School, is asking the school board to approve a sabbatical leave starting in April, 2009, that would allow her to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and use the experience to create classroom projects and a physical fitness program.

She made a presentation at the Jan. 22 board meeting and expects a decision in February.

"We have an escalating problem in this country. Children are not getting outside," observed Morehart, who has been an avid hiker since childhood and has trekked across seven continents, including Antarctica.

After winter break, she asked her students if they played outside, and they reported that they mostly stayed inside with their new video games.

Morehart believes that her journey on the wilderness trail, that stretches from the Mexican border in California all the way to Canada, can spur students to strengthen their bodies and their minds.

"I want to get them interested, and I want to get their families interested," Morehart said.

She wants to establish the "Look Who’s Walking Now" program for the kids, parents, residents and staff members, laying out a walking area around the playground.

She’d like to see the school match the miles she expects to cover along the Pacific Crest, and she is exploring a sponsorship with Nationwide Insurance’s "10,000 Steps" program to donate pedometers for every student.

Morehart is planning the sabbatical from April 20 through Sept. 11, 2009, and expects to be out of the classroom no longer than eight weeks. The timeline is set to get her through the High Sierras before the snow flies.

A substitute would be paid from Morehart’s salary, at no additional cost to the district.

The way she sees it, the school would be getting a two-for-one deal, with a highly qualified teacher in the classroom and Morehart on the trail communicating with students.

There are a wealth of educational opportunities for students following her progress, Morehart contended.

Under her plan, they would develop their language skills through journal and letter-writing and assignments arguing "Is Mrs. Morehart crazy for wanting to hike 2,650 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail?"

Math skills could be practiced through measuring her daily mileage and distances between stops to resupply.

Social studies classes would study the geography, history and culture of the many regions Morehart passes through, and science classes could examine the varied flora and fauna she encounters.

This would not be the first time that Morehart, a Pataskala resident and a Reynoldsburg teacher for 26 years, has used her hiking experiences in the classroom.

In 2000, while at Hannah Ashton Middle School, she was granted a sabbatical to hike the 2,157-mile Appalachian Trail, when she completed in four and a half months.

While she was on the trail, that extends from Tennessee to Maine, students kept in contact through letters and a web site, read correspondence over the public address system and kept track of Morehart’s progress on a map.

They had also mapped out their own sections of the trail and calculated their own probable distances, the weight they would carry and the money they would need to resupply along the way.

Upon her return, Morehart developed an educational presentation that is still in demand around the state. She is often accompanied by the border collie who befriended her along the trail, whom she fittingly named Shadow.

Morehart has seen how her efforts can inspire others. She was a teacher mentor coordinator while planning the Appalachian Trail journey, and a trainee who had never even camped out before decided to hike with her through the Smoky Mountains.

The teacher continues her physical fitness regimen by hiking regularly through Blacklick Woods Metro Park.

Morehart sees "Look Who’s Walking" as an ongoing program to keep students active.

And she expects that charting their teacher crossing hundreds of miles of scorching desert and climbing 13,000-foot peaks will benefit the kids in whatever path in life they take, by exemplifying one of the character-building words emphasized at Herbert Mills – "Determination."

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