Con­nec­tions Academy stu­dents tour Old Span­ish Trea­sure Cave

Westside Eagle-Observer - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SAN HOL­LAND shol­

SUL­PHUR SPRINGS — A group of more than 40 stu­dents from Arkansas Con­nec­tions Academy, a vir­tual school for stu­dents from across the state, opened their school year with a trip to the Old Span­ish Trea­sure Cave Fri­day, Sept. 14. Stu­dents and fam­ily mem­bers gath­ered at the cave where they heard a brief talk from Paul Lin­scott, owner of the cave, along with his wife Tracy, out­lin­ing the cave rules.

Lin­scott cau­tioned the stu­dents not to touch any­thing in­side the cave, ex­plain­ing that it might up­set the cave’s del­i­cate eco­log­i­cal bal­ance. He asked the vis­i­tors to “take noth­ing but pho­tos, leave noth­ing but foot­prints and kill noth­ing but time” in­side the cave. Then the crowd broke up into two groups for tours of the cave.

Lin­scott con­ducted one of the tours, while tour guide Han­nah Holt es­corted the sec­ond group, in­form­ing vis­i­tors about the his­tory and ge­ol­ogy of the cave. They were able to visit the “coun­cil room” where early ex­plor­ers likely camped and see a num­ber of in­ter­est­ing for­ma­tions, in­clud­ing one that has been named “the Ti­tanic” be­cause of its re­sem­blance to a ship’s hull. Other in­trigu­ing sights in­clude rails that have been un­cov­ered, which car­ried the ore carts when Ge­orge W. Dun­bar, owner of the cave in the 1890s, and fel­low trea­sure

seek­ers were ex­ca­vat­ing in the cave, and the nat­u­ral chim­ney, which al­lowed smoke to es­cape and was re­port­edly the means by which the orig­i­nal Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors who buried the trea­sure were dis­cov­ered and killed by ma­raud­ing In­di­ans.

The old log cabin, which now serves as the cave’s mini-mu­seum and gift shop, was built by Todd Setser around 1860 and housed most of the trea­sure hunters dur­ing Dun­bar’s era. Dun­bar, how­ever, con­vinced that they were about to find the trea­sure, started sleep­ing in the cave, de­vel­oped pneu­mo­nia from breath­ing the mine dust and fumes from the oil lamps of the day and died.

On­line ed­u­ca­tion has be­come an op­tion for fam­i­lies in search of more flex­i­bil­ity. A brick and mor­tar school set­ting may not work for them or they are sim­ply in­ter­ested in a dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tion op­tion. One par­ent who made the trip to Gravette ad­mit­ted that she had en­rolled her stu­dent in on­line in­struc­tion be­cause her son was be­ing bul­lied in his tra­di­tional class­room.

Arkansas Con­nec­tions Academy is a free vir­tual pub­lic school for stu­dents in kin­der­garten through 12th grade. It op­er­ates statewide and serves stu­dents from all over Arkansas. It is just like a tra­di­tional brick and mor­tar school. The only dif­fer­ence is that the stu­dents at­tend from home or wher­ever they are ac­cess­ing the school via the In­ter­net. Stu­dents on the cave tour in­cluded some from the nearby towns of Rogers and Siloam Springs and oth­ers from as far away as Quit­man and Lit­tle Rock.

The set­ting at Arkansas Con­nec­tions Academy is a teacher-di­rected en­vi­ron­ment with real, live, lo­cal, cer­ti­fied teach­ers who put to­gether les­son plans, de­liver in­struc­tion and as­sign grades. The school uses the high­est qual­ity cur­ricu­lum and stu­dents re­ceive text­books and all other learn­ing ma­te­ri­als (in­clud­ing sci­ence kits and PE equip­ment such as jump ropes) at no cost.

Each stu­dent is given his or her own les­son plan. At the be­gin­ning of the year, they are tested and given their cur­ricu­lum based on their test re­sults. This al­lows stu­dents to be taught to their own needs and abil­i­ties. A stu­dent who ex­cels in math can be do­ing eighth­grade work but, if the stu­dent strug­gles in an­other sub­ject, he may be on a sixth-grade level in it.

Stu­dents can par­tic­i­pate in clubs and sports, write for the stu­dent news­pa­per and go on field trips just as they would in a tra­di­tional set­ting. Since it is a pub­lic school, the same re­quire­ments ex­ist as far as im­mu­niza­tions re­quired and va­ca­tion days and the stu­dents re­ceive a diploma upon grad­u­a­tion.

This is very dif­fer­ent from home­school­ing. Rather, it is a home-based learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. At Arkansas Con­nec­tions Academy, the par­ents are not teach­ers; they are learn­ing coaches. They do not pur­chase the cur­ricu­lum and come up with les­son plans. All that is done by the teach­ers at the school.

Pho­tos by Su­san Hol­land

(Left photo) Stu­dents from Arkansas Con­nec­tions Academy and a few par­ents pan for gem stones in the old sluice in front of the Old Span­ish Trea­sure Cave. Vis­i­tors took bags of sand and emp­tied them into the sluice, al­low­ing the run­ning wa­ter to flow over it and un­cover any gems, rocks or crys­tals hid­den within. (Right photo) Tour guide Han­nah Holt points out one of sev­eral pas­sage­ways in­side the cave three miles south of Sul­phur Springs. There are more than 2,000 known caves in the north­ern­most 50 miles of Arkansas.

Photo by Su­san Hol­land

Stu­dents from Arkansas Con­nec­tions Academy lis­ten as tour guide Han­nah Holt tells about some of the his­tory and ge­ol­ogy of the Old Span­ish Trea­sure Cave. The vis­i­tors, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a field trip to start the school year, are stand­ing in the coun­cil room, where ev­i­dence in­di­cates trea­sure hunters camped while ex­plor­ing the cave.

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