Outside the Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, third-graders spent part of the morning panning for gold.
Kendall Easterly, 8, shifted the sand in her pan from side to side until she uncovered a few gold rocks and colored marbles.
"This one's pretty," she said, holding a green glass marble. "Except they're all fake."
Groups of third-graders rotated through several stations of hands-on activities as part of the Appalachian Culture Festival, a day of activities aimed at immersing students in many different aspects of mountain traditions.
"It kind of bounces off the third-grade curriculum standards," said Sharon Smith, one of the third-grade teachers at CSAS.
As part of their study of regions and culture, third-grade students focus on their own region, Appalachia, first visiting the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tenn., and ending with the Appalachian Festival on the school's campus.
"It's a cumulative event, and by the time it happens, the students are ready for it," Smith said. "From the museum visit until this point the excitement builds."
The festival is considered a rite of passage for many CSAS students.
"The other students that have been through this, they come by here, and you hear them talking about their memories," Smith said. "I have fifth-graders that have come by and said, 'I wish I could be going around with you today.'"
Parents plan and design the activities. Some activities carry over from one year to the next, but each group of parents brings its own skills and interests, making the yearly event seem fresh, Smith said.
This year, the activities ranged from learning about quilts to "bobbing" for donuts, or trying to eat donuts off a string dangling from a tree.
In the hallway, students including Kate Aquila, 9, were making a bird feeder out of pine cones.
Kate covered her cone with a mix of corn meal and vegetable shortening before adding seeds to it.
"It's prickly," she said as she stuck seeds into the corn meal mixture. "They'll have to watch out for that."
At another station, another group of students made butter by shaking little jars filled with cream. As they shook the jars, the cream began to form small balls.
"You can feel it hit the top," said Vaidehi Rathod, 8. "You're like, 'Yeah! I'm almost there. Whoopee!'"