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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

No 260, Sunday, Oct 12th, 2014 stories.jpg


“We know their potential for character and development, the inexpressible chemistry by which such experiences weave themselves into the fabric of self…” making class.jpg


Foreword: this fall we are hosting the entire fifth grade class of Jackson Academy (JA) for educational overnights on the Mississippi River, 100 kids, teachers and parents. Not all at once (!), but in three groups. The first two have been wonderful experiences for all. This is the perfect age to introduce youngsters to the beauty and challenges of the wild outdoors. Sand, mud, sun, wind, animals, trees, fishes, amphibians, insects, all the various aspects of the Lower Mississippi make for life-changing lessons and great adventure. Guest writer Sarah Mealer (JA Middle School Counselor) was on the first two trips. With her permission we are re-running a story she wrote for the JA school newsletter. QCC guide Braxton Barden took photos of all the diffent scenes along the way: mud class, sand class, fire-making class, star-gazing class, story-telling, paddling class, swim break, lunch stops, amphibian class -- and plain ol' muddy fun! We Quapaws are excited about these overnights. Previously we've hosted kids and schools previously from all over the country. But this is the first time a Mississippi School has come to us and said "we want to take our kids on a Mississippi River Campout..." We humbly appreciate Jackson Academy for their trust in us with their students and teachers in this unparalleled educational opportunity.

Character Education on the Mississippi River:

Reflections from the Mighty Miss toad class.jpg


Character Education on the Mississippi River:

Reflections from the Mighty Miss

by: Sarah Ryburn Mealer

Middle School Counselor

Jackson Academy

photos by:

Braxton Barden

River Guide and Teacher

Quapaw Canoe Company class.jpg


September 30th, 2014

The first fifth grade overnight trip on the Mississippi River was an exciting, character-shaping adventure for 21 fifth graders and seven chaperones.

Perfect weather contributed to a wonderful outing that helped students escape their comfort zones and build confidence in unfamiliar surroundings. Participants canoed, swam, explored sandbars and gravel bars, took nature hikes, and camped out on a sandbar on Buck Island. The fifth graders created some great memories. It was Quapaw Canoe Company’s first overnight trip with students from a Mississippi school. swim.jpg


I put my foot on the gunwale, stood to full height, and jumped out of my canoe into the Mississippi River. Several times during the previous night, the sound of tugboats pushing barges through that very shipping lane had woken me, but there I was, swimming the mighty Mississippi. As I broke the surface, four fifth grade girls called out a warning. They were coming in, too; maybe right on top of me! class.jpg


This year at JA has started with much talk of character: how to build and shape it, how to take children away from the comfortable and familiar to help them discover unique capacities for strength, confidence, and resilience in the face of the strange and unfamiliar. I’ve had the privilege to travel on many trips that comprise a significant arm of JA’s character education program, but I’ve never been on a trip quite like this. Canoeing the Mississippi River? With fifth graders? class.jpg


It started at Helena, Arkansas, at the Quapaw Canoe Company, where owner and chief guide John Ruskey talked to us about our route. We’d paddle three miles of the tributary St. Francis then meet the Mississippi. The plan was to overnight on a sandbar at Buck Island. He talked about star charts and river levels and the wildlife we’d likely encounter, and I could feel the excitement building all around me. class.jpg


We stopped for lunch at the juncture of the two rivers. By that time, we’d experienced close encounters with some of Ruskey’s wildlife. Asian Carp had jumped into two of our boats, creating hilarious chaos; without missing a beat, our fifth graders pursued wildlife into its habitat, seeking out toads and turtle shells, dragon flies and fish skeletons, as we wandered along the bank. on a log.jpg .jpg


Those who plan outdoor education often speak of “capstone trips” and “community building.” We long for these experiences for our students. We know their potential for character and development, the inexpressible chemistry by which such experiences weave themselves into the fabric of self. The equation is elusive and impossible to recreate in a classroom, however progressive or rigorous.


We know their potential for character and development, the inexpressible chemistry by which such experiences weave themselves into the fabric of self. class.jpg


There is a capstone, and it shifted into place on a sandbar along the Mississippi River, under a blanket of stars, as John Ruskey captivated twenty–one fifth graders with talk of the first explorers to the region and the number of houses a beaver will build in its lifetime. It found traction with half a dozen of those fifth grade girls who discovered that they can love Mississippi mud as much as a cell phone or an iPad. Community happened on the river as four canoes of JA students called out a Quapaw “whoop” of greeting to each other across the water. stories.jpg


I traveled to the canoe company with several students and another teacher, and our car played a familiar game along the road: I Spy. I spy, with my little eye, a mighty adventure. It was strange, and it was wonderful, and I can’t wait to go again!

-Sarah Ryburn Mealer, Middle School Counselor, Jackson Academy poster.jpg

Upcoming Rivergator Expeditions You can join!

Nov 15-25

St. Louis to Caruthersville

307 miles on the Mississippi River from the Missouri River Confluence, past the Ohio River Confluence, all the way down the Missouri Bootheel to Caruthersville.

Celebrating the Middle/Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Dec 6-16

Vicksburg to Baton Rouge

207 miles on the Mississippi River from Vicksburg, down the Loess Bluffs past Natchez, St. Francisville and ending in Baton Rouge.

Celebrating the Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


March 2015: Atchafalaya River Expedition

From Three Rivers WMA to the Gulf of Mexico

via Simmesport, Krotz Springs, Flat Lake and Morgan City with side trips down mysterious side channels and bayous, and fantastic birding, amphibians, and exploration along the way!

April 2015: Rivergator Expedition:

Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico

including Plaquemines, New Orleans and Venice (bring your haz mat suits and respirator)

October/November 2015:

Rivergator Completion Celebration Expedition:

St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico

1180 miles on the Middle and Lower Mississippi River! Start: Missouri River Confluence. End: salty waters of the Carribean.


Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

brought to you courtesy of the:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation

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