Retired science teacher Eddie Trapp of Cooper (back right) continues sharing his love of the great outdoors by teaching students various survival techniques such as identify poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes, finding your way without a compass and the proper way to build a fire. "You can never stop a teacher from teaching," said Yantis teacher, Carol Darlin, who took 22 honor students for a day of outdoor adventure at Mr. Trapp's outdoor classroom along the Sulphur River bottoms.
Staff Photo By Jessica Worth

Meet Eddie Trapp, Sulphur River Scientist

Retired teacher still thrills students with his excursions into the wilds of the river bottom

BY PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer

Oct. 13, 2008 - Although he's been retired from the classroom for 10 years, former science teacher Eddie Trapp of Cooper continues to educate students through outdoor excursions along the Sulphur River bottoms, instructing them on survival techniques and instillingan appreciation for their natural surroundings.

"You can never stop a teacher from teaching," said Yantis school teacher Carol Darlin, who took 22 honors world and U.S. history students on a recent field trip recently to the Delta County community of Charleston, just outside of Cooper where Trapp taught for 31 years.

"I learned my first year of teaching that kids are gonna bring stuff in for you to identify for them," said Trapp, a native of Delta County. "I caught on real quick that if a teacher doesn't know what kind of tree that is or insect this is, well, he's not going to be a very good science teacher in the eyes of those students."

Having grown up along the South Sulphur River banks, traipsing through the woods and back roads of Northeast Texas, identifying birds and trees seemed an obvious pastime for the boy who would grow up to teach what he loved.

"I was never content with just 'There's a bird.' I wanted to know what kind of bird, what kind of tree," explained Trapp. "And I carried that with me into the classroom. It was important to me that young people be able to identify the things around them."

Trapp also drove a school bus throughout his teaching career, and to the delight of his riders, any time a snake or turtle happened along their path, Trapp would stop and capture the specimen for further inspection in the classroom.

"I always liked to spice it up a little bit with things I could bring in from outdoors," he said. "A lot of kids that rode that bus said they learned more on the bus ride home or to school than they did in some of their classes. It always made me feel good for'em to say 'I enjoy your class' or come back years later and say 'I learned more from your class than anybody elses.'

"They may have told all their teachers that, but it always made me feel good just the same," he added.

As word got out regarding Trapp's "hands on" method of teaching, he has been invited to present at gifted and talented state conventions, middle school conferences and other events.

"I feel like my methods have been successful, so it's important to share them with others," said Trapp. "Taking trips, nature hikes -- I've always done it that way."

Some of the topics covered on his excursions include the use of a compass (as well as finding your way without a compass), tree and plant identification, animal tracks, bird calls, useful knots, identifying poisonous/nonpoisonous snakes, and the home range territory of box turtles, a personal favorite, which involves marking turtles and keeping track of them throughout the years.

Something new he has added to the agenda is reading longitude and latitude for "geocaching," a kind of treasure-hunting hobby where a participant locates a cache hidden by another participant using coordinates on a GPS tracking device.

"I have several of the geocaches hidden near where I live for the students to find, but they have them all across the nation," Trapp explained. "A container with trinkets, a note pad and, sometimes, a camera are hidden for people to locate. When you take a trinket out, you are to put another one in. You write where you're from in the notebook and take a picture of yourself if you want. It's a new and fun hobby that is a good way to learn longitude and latitude."

The hunt for fossils is a highly anticipated event for the students, too.

"My family has been fossil hunting in the Sulphur River bottom since I was a child," said Darlin, a teacher for more than 25 years who still enjoys scouring the banks for sharks teeth and other fossils. "This area of East Texas was once covered with water and tropical fish. I usually give all my 'treasures' away but I enjoy the search."

OPTIONAL TRIM

Trapp said he spends several days prior to the arrival of a group preparing for the outdoor activities, as well as a few competitions to make it even more exciting.

"I was a Scout master for a lot of years so I always like to teach them the proper way to build a fire," he said.

After dividing the group into two teams, Trapp has them gather twigs for the first competition.

"I tie a string up real high and the first team that gets their fire built up enough to burn the string into wins a two-liter Coke," he explains.

Another competition is a tree climbing contest. Trapp hangs a cow bell in a tree and students who want to test their skill are timed with a stop watch to see who reaches the bell quickest.

"There's a lot of fun you can have out in the woods. This gives them a break from the classroom; getting to explore, getting poison oak," he said teasingly.

Groups that gather outside his cabins along the river bottom are always advised to wear old blue jeans, long sleeved shirts, tennis shoes or hiking boots, caps and back packs geared with mosquito repellent, plenty of water, a sack lunch and a spiral notebook and pencil for taking notes.

"I hope they keep the notebooks forever," said Trapp, who suggests students make sketches of the side view of heads of snakes or plants. "They can bring a camera if they wish. Near my cabin are some Hearts A Bustin' bushes-they're a unique and beautiful fruit," he added enthusiastically.

END OPTIONAL TRIM

Trapp goes above and beyond making the day adventurous as possible.

On an early morning excursion with his Jack Russell Terrier just prior to the YISD students, he found an armadillo hole and pulled it out by the tail.

"I put it in a barrel for the kids to examine, then somebody can chase it," he said with a grin. "The other students always think that is so funny.

"The most rewarding part of all this is not just the fun of being outdoors but teaching young people something useful they can carry with them from now on."

For more information or to book an outdoor excursion with Eddie Trapp call 903-439-8110.

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