The nostalgic childhood experience of fort-building and make-believe scenarios of rugged survival have a permanent place at St. Peter's Episcopal School, except it's not a fort and the related scenarios are real.
The school is home to a 22-foot tipi that is used as an outdoor classroom.
"We have people that come once a month to tell Native American stories and do cultural activities," said Head of School Meredith Ruffner. "Teachers use it for writing assignments, crafts and songs."
In mid-November, the tipi was the site of a pow wow hosted by Native American Services of Tennessee. Along with volunteers from St. Peter's Episcopal Church and family and friends of the school, Native Americans did demonstrations of woodcarving, corn husk doll making, stick ball games and blow gun shooting.
Through the wood carving presentation, students learned Native American terms and how to practice carving bars of soap. The corn husk doll station gave them an opportunity to talk about the history of play and toys as far back as the 1800s, including one doll students coined "the great-grandmother of Batman." Students were able to play stick-ball games, much like lacrosse, after they learned the rules from an expert, and then got to try shooting a blow gun, traditionally used to hunt animals like rabbits and squirrels this time of year.
"It was a great day," Ruffner said.
In addition to the cultural connections, the day had a personal one as well: The tipi was dedicated in honor of alumni Tucker Hunt, who, at the age of 13, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on Friday, Dec. 17, 2010, at his home.
"We wanted to grasp his spirit and the cultural diversity we try to teach children about," Ruffner said.
Though not Native American, Tucker enjoyed the outdoors and had a tipi in his childhood bedroom, she said.
"He just had kind of a fun, happy spirit. He loved to be out in the woods, he loved treehouses, hiking and playing in the woods," said Ruffner, who taught Tucker when he was in second grade.
The dedication ceremony was held close to Nov. 24, which would've marked his 20th birthday. It was the second time the school honored Tucker by dedicating the tipi. Originally built on the campus in 2013, following a design done by the school's fifth-grade class that year, the tipi had to be taken down after storm damage in the spring of last year.
Recently rebuilt using that same design, Tucker's Tipi now stands again as a symbol of survival: of a culture, a people and a legacy.