“Today daddy and I climbed a 14,000 foot mountain, which by the way was the highest mountain I have ever climbed.”

Those words from Mount Shasta in California appeared in a blog post May 21 written by Annie Cooke, 14, of Cornville.

It was just the latest adventure this spring for Annie, who along with her sister, Natalie, 7, and parents Jason and Julie Cooke, both 41, took to the road April 4 in a converted sky-blue 2002 GMC 3500 school mini-bus.

They call it the S’cool Bus and they’re gone for two months, looking for America.

“We got our backpacks all together that night so when we woke up we threw them on our backs and started climbing,” Annie wrote of the day they climbed Mount Shasta. “We got about a third of the way up before the sun came out. It was so beautiful seeing the stars and the sunrise on the mountain. At one point there was even rainbow clouds.”

That was just one day in a two-month journey that was part education, part wonder and amazement and part of a school year that the children will never forget, said Julie Cooke, co-owner of Happy Knits, a yarn shop in the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan.


The journey in the S’cool Bus started out from Maine to the Delaware Water Gap, into West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

“We wanted to head west as quickly as possible, but it was tough to get through those states without stopping for three times longer than we had planned,” Jason Cooke said by phone Wednesday from a spot near the Arkansas River in Salida, Colorado, as the family was making its way home to Maine.

From there it was on to Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and the Red River Gorge, then into Tennessee.

He said in White House, Tennessee, the bus lost its brakes “and we met some incredible people that helped us out,” Jason said.

“It was all kinds of fate how that happened,” he said. “You can visit national parks and do all the highlights of the trip, but honestly, the most fun for me were the obscure little things that happened along the way and the people that we met.”

From Arkansas, the S’cool Bus motored to Las Vegas to pick up Jason’s niece, Sydney Cooke, then to the Grand Canyon and on to California, through Death Valley, to the Pacific Ocean. The family took Route 1 north through Big Sur to Happy Camp, California, in the heart of the Klamath National Forest.


“Happy Camp — it’s a bit like Jackman. It’s a mixture of Jackman and Bingham,” Jason Cooke said.

From there they went to Yosemite National Park and then to Colorado, where they stopped, visited friends and prepared for the long trip home to Cornville.

“We just experienced Americana at its best,” Jason Cooke said. “It’s modern-day family adventuring.”


Travis Works, principal of Cornville Regional Charter School, which the two girls attend, said the family met with the school staff and classroom teachers before the trip to make sure the school could account for the children’s education.

“There were a lot of structured activities that were taking place, a lot of monitoring that takes place between the classroom teacher and the students’ work,” he said. “We’re able to use technology and able to break the traditional brick-and-mortar part of the learning experience and expand the classroom. They’ve had a lot of communication while they’ve been on their adventure and have had a lot of contact with classroom teachers participating in different events remotely.”


Works said the journey of the Cooke family is like “a flipped classroom experience,” where the students are able to participate in key activities and share their experiences. He said Annie and Natalie are still very much a part of the school while they are gone, but in a virtual way.

Works said ensuring the trip’s educational aspect took a lot of planning for activities. Annie and Natalie communicated with the school via email, blog and videoconferencing with a Facetime app for iPhones.

“We want them to continue to high perform because we’re based on growth, so I would say it’s comforting and reassuring when you have a situation like this. However the main piece is, we’re pushing those kids as much as possible to make growth,” Works said. “We want to make sure they’re meeting their growth target.”

Works said the release of the students from the classroom for two months follows all the necessary provisions of rules and laws set forth by the Maine Charter Commission.

Julie Cooke said the family met with teachers before they set off, getting books Annie and Natalie were to read, mathematics assignments, a map to chart the journey and a clock set to Maine time to compare the time zones as they went. Annie’s blog, cooke2015.blogspot.com also was part of the assignment from school.

“They were kind of laid back, and we weren’t too worried about it because we knew what they were going to be getting for education out here on the road was going to be probably more intense in two months than anything else,” she said. “They just wanted to be in the habit of regularly creating writing and doing a little math.”



Julie Cooke said that aside from the wonders of the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods and the rock formations of Utah, the children studied geography, indigenous wildlife, marine biology — seeing whales, dolphins, seals and other aquatic life in California — and history, state capitals and big cities.

“We’ve been in every sort of terrain. We’ve been to the ocean. We’re been to the mountains. We’ve been underground in a cave. We’ve been in a river. We’ve been in the redwood forest,” she said. “Beside that, we experienced the local cultures through the Southern states.”

The serendipitous parts of the trip included a side visit to a backwoods school in Tennessee where they found a music festival performed by local people.

Both children were tested before they left, completing Smarter Balance, the state assessment, and will take the North West Educational Assessment test, an end-of-the-year assessment necessary for charter renewal.

As for Annie and Natalie, they say they miss their friends and classmates — and their dogs — but the road trip was a lot of fun.


“I learned a lot of stuff like geography of the land and where we’ve been, like the deserts and forests and mountains and history,” Annie said. “We went to Gettysburg and learned a little bit about the war there and went to Harper’s Ferry and learned about that.”

She said climbing Mount Shasta with her father was difficult, but it was fun. The climb was steep and she wasn’t accustomed to the altitude, but they made it through the snow to the top.

“It kind of did funky things to our bodies, but it was still really fun and really beautiful,” Annie said. “I liked Shasta a lot, but it’s going to feel really good to be back home with all my friends, and I’m going to have a lot to talk about.”

Of all of the sights of the two-month trip, Natalie said the day she learned to surf — standing up on a surfboard catching waves in the Pacific Ocean at Pismo Beach, California — is probably the most memorable.

“Surfing I liked, which was very fun,” she said. “I got up on the board. Some of the waves were big.”

Jason Cooke, who works for Maine Huts and Trails, said they took out the interior of the mini-bus, threw in some beds and hit the road.


“We do not have a bathroom. We’re living out of a cooler and pick our camping spots pretty wisely,” he said. “We try to find places with outhouses and showers. We’re dry camping, I guess they call it.”

He said they expect to be back in Maine this weekend.

“We’re shooting for Sunday. I’ve got to work Monday morning,” he said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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