We spent the month of October in Kentucky with friends this year. Last week Gordon wrote about Halloween and our cave excursions, but what he didn’t mention was the Kentucky Unit Study.
It was the first activity, and everyone met up in the game room that morning. Mr. Burrell explained the plan: we would be learning about a different aspect of Kentucky with each segment, and then working with a randomly chosen partner to create a Kentucky Fact trifold board. At the end of two days’ hard work, impartial judges would pick a winner, providing constructive criticism, and then we would tour Diamond Caverns the next day.
And so it began. I was paired with my friend Emma, and we set to work creating a layout for our board. That morning the lesson had been based around Kentucky state symbols and general facts, so we incorporated those new findings into our plan. Emma wrote “Kentucky” in a large, neat cursive at the top of the page, and traced it with green colored pencil topped with blue, providing a bluegrass look. I looked over the symbols list that Mr. Burrell had printed out, marking particularly interesting items to add, and then we started drawing them. I did a cartoonish cow labeled “Kentucky state drink: milk!,” and Emma drew a big, beautiful cardinal. After about an hour and a half, we had completed the middle of our poster board, detailing many obscure facts about the Bluegrass State. A tidy Appalachian Dulcimer sat near the top, and a baseball bat marked “Louisville Slugger” leaned against the K that headed our page. One of my favorite parts of the trifold board’s midsection was Emma’s beautiful disco ball drawing, which was adorned with green and blue lights coming out at all angles. Next to the art was a square of writing. “Did you know,” it said, “that 90% of America’s disco ball supply is made in Louisville, Kentucky?”
The class let out for a two hour lunch break, and we all went to our respective homes to eat. After lunch we kids played several enthusiastic games of dodge ball in the field, and then we headed back inside the building to continue our work. That afternoon the topic of study was famous Kentuckians, and I had had a brainwave. Instead of attempting to actually draw people, we drew out some item that was directly related to what they were famous for. Johnny Depp’s was a pirate hat, Muhammad Ali’s a pair of boxing gloves, Loretta Lynn’s a microphone, etc. Then the drawings were accompanied by a short paragraph of their life, or a compilation of facts. We used one of the smaller side pieces for that, and it turned out very neat and organized.
The next morning, we learned about the Appalachian lifestyle and history, and used half of the remaining side piece to write about what we’d found out, accompanied by pictures. I wrote a small thing on the Hatfields and McCoys, famous Appalachian rivals, and asked Mr. Burrell to print out a related picture to cover a torn spot on the poster board. Emma explained about homelessness and hunger in Appalachian communities, accompanied by a chart on poverty rates in Kentucky. After our lunch break, we all returned to finish our projects. We had decided to use our last remaining space (half of a side piece) for geography. I made a small cartoon cave, and Emma drew a waterway streaming across the page. We then each wrote small explanations of our drawings. I tried to make mine a readable size, but that’s a big problem for me; in order for my handwriting to look nice, it has to be tiny, and the bigger it is the messier it looks. There was still some space left, so I dedicated the bottom of the page to the Kentucky Bend, an incredibly unique geographical phenomenon, and the only one of its kind. It’s a small area of land that is completely separated from Kentucky, and is the only piece of one state that is entirely surrounded by other states. In a great earthquake, it was moved, and now parts of Tennessee and Missouri stand between it and its main state. After we had finished work, we all hung around the room for a while longer, helping to clean up. The judging would take place pretty soon.
It wasn’t too long until Mr. Burrell was showing in our honorary judges; they were campers at the park, but we didn’t know them. Perhaps some were out for a weekend with their grandkids. Anyway, they walked around the room for a while, conversing in whispers and looking at the entries. I cringed as I watched one lady pick up the board that Emma and I had made. She was trying to read what I’d written about the caves, I knew it, and that was far too small. Perhaps she would stop bothering, and walk away without finding that I knew my stuff. After ages of wandering from board to board, one kind-faced woman came to the front of the group. Mr. Burrell signaled for attention, and then she spoke. She told us how we had all done very well, and that she had only found one wrong article of information on any of the boards. My breath caught in my throat; I had stubbornly written on my piece about Jim Bowie that he hadn’t invented the Bowie Knife, as many believed. I knew that I was right, but these judges might believe differently. But much to my relief, the woman explained that one competitor had written that Mammoth Cave was a state park. It was truly a national park. She praised us for a moment longer, and then the judges left. Mr. Burrell stepped up to where they had stood, and started telling us about parts that had been loved and appreciated in each board. Apparently, my little Kentucky Bend had been much appreciated, and we had been the only ones to include it. But we still hadn’t heard who the winner was, and so we sat with baited breath, waiting to be told. Mr. Burrell used all of the typical drama, the drawing out and the dramatizing, just as I am doing here and now. But finally the verdict came out: Lucas Muller and Camden Walker had won. We all went over to admire their work, and Mr. Burrell told us that the thing that had really pushed it over was a large coal cart that Camden had drawn. The judges had apparently said that the coal industry was a large part of their culture, and they loved that this team had featured it so prominently.
So congratulations to Lucas and Camden, winners of the official Kentucky Unit Study Trifold Board Competition. You earned it.