ONE Forest School

Students at ONE Forest School in Huddleston explore the outdoors to learn more about the world around them.

The desire to spend days playing in the woods with her grandchildren led a Huddleston woman to create a school that offers area children a unique learning experience.

Former restaurateur Catherine Eubank turned that desire into reality with the help of her husband, Danny, on their Huddleston property. The result is ONE Forest School.

ONE is an acronym for Organic Nature Experience. At ONE Forest School the classroom is a series of trails, mud kitchen, mud pit, creek and sandbox that the Eubanks have carved out of their property.

“We opened in May,” said Catherine Eubank. “We offer after school programs and we offer full days.”

Starting ONE Forest School was not as easy as clearing away shrubbery and brush from their property. The process started three years ago, with a realization.

“I told my husband I didn’t want to cook anymore and he said, ‘What do you want to do?’” Eubank recalled. “I said, ‘The only thing I want to do is play in the forest with my grandkids.’ He laughed and said, ‘Good luck making that work.’”

Eubank went back to school and redefined her career goals. At 49, she thought going back to school would be easy because she had always been a good student. The school was online, and they had to do videos as their practicals.

“It was the hardest thing I have done in my life,” Eubank said. “I was writing these term papers three times a week. It was pushing me to think. As adults we kind of take things for granted and wing it. The way that the classes were set up really made me work hard.”

Eubank is now accredited through Forest Schools International. The school is working toward becoming a nonprofit and getting licensing from social services so they can better serve the community.

Learning is a bit different because it’s not done in a typical school classroom. Students at ONE Forest School are taught a new way of figuring out the world.

“If a child picks up a walnut or an acorn and says, ‘what’s this?’ I answer, ‘That’s a great question. Let’s see if we can figure out if that’s an acorn, walnut or hickory nut,’” Eubank said. “We use that as a teachable moment. In school they are being told what to learn and then using that information to memorize. We’re actually teaching kids how to think.”

Instead of giving students answers to questions, they’re referred to a book so they can identify the nut by characteristics — what tree it comes from and maybe digging deeper and identifying what animals eat the nut.

“All the different projects we do here are STEM based,” Eubank said. “They are all science and technology-based projects. It’s completely scientific, biological and psychology-based learning.”

The school accepts donations to assist students in the learning process. Eubank’s sister in North Carolina works at a school that recently was getting rid of old school supplies that Eubank readily accepted. They recently accepted a donation of four bicycles.

“My brother is an engineer for CISCO in California,” Eubank said. “He graciously agreed to build a pump with these bikes. So, I had this great idea. We needed a bike [that is stationary] that these kids could get on that would have a pump attached, with a hose attached to the pump that goes down to the creek, and the kids get on the bike and peddle to pump their own water into the mud kitchen or into the mud pit.”

The pump could allow students to control the amount of water, learn about water and mechanics of pumps and how they work, Eubank said. Now Eubank is turning the idea into reality to see if it works.

Eubank is in the process of building a board of directors as a part of becoming a nonprofit. Seven are in place so far. “Anyone who is in early childhood development or some type of professional service, we are looking for board members.”

Anyone interested in attending the programs at ONE Forest School can take part in a Saturday tour. For more information, contact ONE Forest School at 682-6320.