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An outdoor school classroom, Gold Award project; a passion of a young environmentalist

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Cora Goforth.

Cora Goforth said she was told that as a three year old she was prone to pick up trash wherever she was. Whether walking with her parents, Curtis and Jennifer Goforth, in a park, along a street or around the house, if there was a piece of trash Cora grabbed it up. Trash was out of place in the environment.

The now 15-year-old East Rutherford High School junior has taken her passion for a cleaner environment much further.

She recently completed building an outdoor classroom at Forrest Hunt Elementary School to teach children about taking care of the environment.

Cora, a member of the Girl Scout in Troop 1853 at Salem United Methodist Church Girl Scout Troop, created the outdoor classroom as her Gold Award project. The 96-hour project earned her the Gold Award -- Girl Scouts highest award. It will be formally presented next May.

"I believe it is important for young students to get involved in environmental education," Cora said while sitting in the outdoor classroom recently. She hopes the outdoor classroom and the age appropriate curriculum offered there to students K-5 will help encourage young children to love the environment and help conserve the outdoors around them.

"It is an issue that affects all of us," Cora said. "Protecting nature is really important."

A Girl Scout since the days of being a Daisy, Cora and her family have moved several times over the years. Her dad, Curtis Goforth is a Methodist minister. He has pastored the First United Methodist Church in Forest City just over a year. Her mom Jennifer Goforth is an Exceptional Children's teacher at Cliffside Elementary School -- the second elementary school to receive the rewards of Cora's project. Her younger sister, Lylah, is a Silver Award winner in Girl Scouts and is an eighth grader at East Middle School.

When Cora decided she wanted to build an outdoor classroom, she contacted all the elementary school principals in Rutherford County asking if the respective schools would be interested in having an outdoor classroom on the campus.

Forrest Hunt's former principal Tammie Ashe was the first to respond, thus the location was chosen. After Dr. Ashe left Forrest Hunt to take an administrative position with the Rutherford County Schools, new principal Scott Hopper has been the project coordinator at Forrest Hunt.

"They were both helpful," Cora said of Ashe and Hopper. "He has been so excited and really positive," Cora said. He has been instrumental in seeing the project through.

The classroom is located several hundred yards from the actual school buildings and people can get to the classroom by walking to the woods behind the school and following a trail built by Boy Scout Drew Henderson many years ago.

The trail was refurbished and cleared by Cora and volunteers. It now leads children and teachers to the outdoor classroom about 50 feet from the edge of the woods.

The amphitheater style classroom seats from 30 to 40 children, depending on the age level of children. There's a white board in the center of the open air classroom and a fence surrounds the perimeter of the class space. The fine was in place but Cora repainted the fence.

She bought the lumber and measured and cut the wood for the benches. She stained the benches with stain donated by the Habitat Restore.

"One thing I wish I had done earlier was to buy the supplies," Cora said. When she decided to do the project she priced lumber and other materials last September. When she returned in March to buy the materials, "the price was doubled. I wish I had bought them earlier."

In the process of building the classroom Cora surveyed the teachers asking if they would utilize the space and the responses were positive.

Forrest Hunt lead teacher Laura Thompson, who taught summer school in June, said she took some of her classes to the outdoor classroom.

"They loved it," Thompson said.

While the classroom is at Forrest Hunt, Cliffside Elementary is also the recipient of Cora's project.

At Cliffside, Cora took the project a little further and conducted an outreach project going to the school for a scavenger hunt and a glance at environmental issues with students there. Scavenger hunts were also conducted for students at Forrest Hunt.

Continued on page 3.

She had an opportunity to interact with students and to provide environmental tips for exceptional children in her mom's classroom.

Also as part of the project Cora wrote a children's book on environmental conservation and presented the book to classes at Forrest Hunt and Cliffside schools.

The ebook, "The Littlest Leaf" is accessible online. The book tells the story of a little leaf that blows off a tree in the fall and how it finds itself in a polluted environment to later be rescued by the little girl for a collection.

The book caught the attention of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the staff added it to their website.

Moving the benches and cleaning the outdoor area for the classroom also involved about 20 volunteers from the youth group at First United Methodist Church, other family and friends.

She said perhaps the thing that surprised her the most about the project was herself.

"I am naturally introverted and it is hard for me to take charge. I had to get over that feeling and I had to see my vision," Cora explained.

For many years the classroom will be the place where young children will learn and experience the natural environment created by a young girl who has been interested in a cleaner environment far longer than she might remember.

Cora's Scout leader Jenny Griffin said of Cora, "She is a talented, motivated, and a thoughtful young lady. We are so proud of the positive impact she's made on our community in pursuit of her Gold Award. We can't wait to see her continue making the world a better place," Griffin said.

When Cora isn't studying or concentrating on her passion for the environment, in her spare time she does Olympic recurve archery and is the three-time indoor state champion in her division.

One day Cora hopes to study English in college, maybe become a creative writer and a post-secondary teacher.

She has a pretty good head start on becoming a teacher/writer.

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