Teacher Richard Hearn with Lanai Prescott. | Courtesy Richard Hearn

Many of the sixth-graders at Forest Park Middle School seem to be hooked on geocaching. Eleven sixth-graders and their advisor Richard Hearn got together in the middle school library on Sept. 18 to try to explain to a visiting muggle [what geocachers call one who has never been geocaching] what it’s all about.

Anaya Marks explained that geocaching is all about finding stuff that is hidden. She said you can get an app on your phone that gives you the GPS coordinates (global positioning system for all you other muggles) for the cache, the thing that is hidden. Korin Smith said the app is free, and Adan Hernandez added that you can get an advanced mystery app for $9.

Hearn, who is the library media specialist at the middle school, described the activity by breaking the word down: “geo” he said is earth and “cache” is something that is hidden. The geocaching website says, “Join the world’s largest treasure hunt.” The way it works is someone hides little containers in random places and then loads the coordinates on the geocache app. The location appears as a green dot on a GPS map.

Marquel Saleek said Hearn introduced the sixth-graders to geocaching during the week of Sept. 7-11 and they went on their first geocaching adventure on Sept. 11.

Dominic Robinson described the outing: 

“We had to walk all the way to the Forest Park Mall. Everybody had their GPS on. It led us to a light pole. Everybody thought it was in the plants around the pole. Then someone looked by the pole and saw a cover you could lift up, and there we found a container with panther paws [an emblem of the middle school’s Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS)] in it.”

Hearn came up with the idea of geocaching when the social studies teacher told him the sixth-graders would be working on archaeology. Geocaching, thought Hearn, would be a fun way for the students to learn about coordinates, longitude, latitude and how to use a compass.

As it turned out, the sixth-graders enjoyed their learning experience so much, several of them went out geocaching during the weekend. Over the weekend Joshua Nelson went out looking for a cache that his app said was near his house on Madison Street. He walked back and forth where the coordinates said it should be but couldn’t find it. He speculated that maybe it was hidden on the roof overhead.

Marquel said the people hiding things will sometimes try to trick you, like putting the cache on a roof. When Mikey Racanelli and his friends went out geocaching, for example, they went to where the coordinates told them to go but couldn’t find anything until they went up — to abandoned railroad tracks where they finally found what they were looking for. Korin even climbed a tree in search of hidden treasure but came up empty. Anaya had time to kill at a Walgreens while waiting for a physical, so she checked her app and sure enough, there was one right in back of the store with some trinkets in it.

One cache that frustrated many in the class was located right by Ferrara Pan Candy Co. Even Hearn went there ahead of time and spent half an hour searching without success. The students enjoyed his story about rummaging through the bushes around the factory until a security guard came out and told him the neighbors had been calling about a suspicious person crawling around. On top of that, unbeknownst to Hearn, a Brinks Armored Truck was close by making a cash pick up.

Dominic Ybarra and some of his friends finally solved the mystery. When they looked up at the spot where everyone else had been searching they saw the cache hanging on a cable overhead.

Kyrie Jones was so into geocaching, he dreamed about it. In his dream, he was at a relative’s place where his app said there was a cache in the middle of a river nearby, so he took a boat to the island. He couldn’t find the hidden treasure, but he had fun.

Tamya Hibbler cautioned novice geocachers that they need patience because you might not find what you’re looking for every time or right away. “Geocaching is hard,” said Hamza Hodzic. “I learned that some caches can even be underwater. You have to push yourself to keep on trying, but that’s what makes it fun.”

The middle school students had some advice for people who might want to try geocaching. “Be specific,” said Adan. “Pay attention to clues that might be on your app and look up and down where the coordinates tell you to go.”

Marquel advised people not to geocache at night, but above all, he said, “Don’t quit. If you are going to geocache, you have to recognize it’s going to take a lot of time. You can’t get frustrated about not finding something right away.”

The Geocaching website says there are 642 caches in and around Forest Park and worldwide there are over two million. The caches tend to be in small containers like an old film canister or an empty plastic first aid box or in a magnetic box for keys which you can attach to the underside of something like a park bench. The cache will usually have a tracking log in it on which you write your name and the date you found it. Sometimes there’ll be a little treasure worth a few cents which you can take with you but only if you replace it with something else of the same or greater value.

Hearn was pleased with how geocaching went and thought about including it as an option at a middle school activity day. He also wondered if a geocaching club might be organized.

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