Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holidays, community, and snow!

Here's a post from Emma Levy, one of my compadres. Happy Holidays all!

If you've been curious about grad student life at IslandWood beyond teaching and coursework, this weekend was an exceptional testament to the growing sense of community within our class. An unexpected and extended power outage that began in the middle of Child Development class on Friday afternoon and continued through the evening quickly turned a would-have-been mellow evening into a festive event. 18 of 27 grads were present for an impromptu get-together, lit by candles and suspended head lamps. Susan, our resident chef (and fellow grad) busily prepared enough tamales to feed the masses as the rest of us snacked happily on high quality appetizers. Around 8 p.m., when the electricity returned to campus, dinner disbanded and everyone dispersed to complete the day’s unfinished business—now possible with light and electronics.

Later on that night, three cars full of grads trooped down to Rockaway Beach to explore the tidal pooling and rocky beach exposed by the low tide (the first pre-midnight low tide of the winter). Under the biggest full moon of the year, backed by a striking panoramic view of Seattle, we poked around the beach, overturning rocks and seeking out likely homes for marine creatures. Being from the East Coast, I had never seen anything like purple-ish blue ochre stars or painted anemones, leaving me enthralled with this wonderland of critters and life that is usually hidden deep beneath the water.

Back at IslandWood, preparations for the next day’s celebration of “Faux Christmas Morning” were underway until late into the night. Since most of us are leaving the island for winter break, we decided (after checking on each grad’s holiday preferences) to have a mock Christmas morning, giving us a chance to share time and presents and family traditions. Clad in cheerful pajamas, we all gathered in the commons this morning bearing home-made brunch treats and Secret Santa gifts. These weren’t your typical store-bought presents: there was a song, a painting, a story, home-made books and ceramics, and a giant marshmallow duck, to name just a few. The morning wholly embodied the holiday spirit in its thoughtfulness and excitement for giving, and I think we each felt a true sense of thankfulness for each other and for the opportunity to share this year together in such an extraordinary place. The essence of holiday and community could only have been made more poignant by some small natural miracle, which came in the form of the first winter snow this evening.

-by Emma Levy

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our first last

Today the 12 grads in my cohort finished up their last field- teaching week of 2008. We will have a two- week winter break, to return on January 6, but the faces of the cohorts (what we call the two groups grads are divided into) will be different. We will be shuffled around, and Cohort A will never be all together again! For a moment it felt a little sad, and Denise, a faculty member, commented at our Debrief Lunch, "It's your first last!" We snapped this group photo at the Friendship Circle this morning as we were waiting for our students to arrive from the lodges. We are all clad in knit hats, scarves, and sweaters (under our rain gear) because Thursday is "theme day"; we add a secret, silly theme to our attire on those last days of the teaching week to make ourselves laugh even more than we already do.

Thursdays in the IslandWood School Overnight Program are always bittersweet, as we get ready to say goodbye to the kids we've been spending our time with all week. So this Thursday was especially poignant since all us grads are getting ready to pack up and send off too. Pat, a fellow grad, and I were the "liaisons" for the two schools that visited, White Center Heights and Greenwood Elementaries, so we acted as the sort-of "masters of ceremonies" at all those gatherings in the Circle (an amphitheater around a campfire in the woods). It was sort-of our job to set the tone, get the kids excited, and make sure everything ran smoothly all week. So I may be a little biased when I say this, but I felt it was a really positive, fun, and rewarding week! We said goodbye to the kids with a closing song we call "Canoes", which is about wayfaring canoers singing to each other as they approach and then pass each other in the night. "Naaa na na na na --- Wayyyy ohhh ---," we sang. And the week ended with smiles on all our faces.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Grad-style family Thanksgiving

Some of us stuck around IslandWood for Thanksgiving; for many of us it was the first time we'd spent it away from home. (I'm one of them). Just like my family's big, loud gatherings back in South Shore Massachusetts, there was tons of delicious food, football- and movie-watching, tests of throwing skill (bottle caps in this case), and heated board game contests. I think we all pretty much felt at home. Some exceptions though: we cooked all of it! And, fortunately for us, since the grad housing is within IslandWood's 255-acre forest, we were able to stave off food coma by foraying out onto the trails in night hike fashion. No flashlights, just us in the woods with our digesting tummies. We slipped into 5th-grader mode here and there on the way to the suspension bridge over the ravine, with comments such as "Is it lodge time yet?" "No pushing!" "Does Sasquatch live at IslandWood?" "Aah! A ditch!". After three months of teaching in the field, we've heard it all, and the kid-mentality tends to rub off on us a from time to time. We made it back in one piece though, without getting eaten by bears, feeling refreshed and almost, maybe, possibly ready for dessert.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ecosystem stuff

The above 5th-grader-penned sentence from an IslandWood assessment worksheet reads: "I think you people were trying to disguise learning about life by learning about ecosystem stuff."

When Susan, a Cohort A IslandWood grad, read this quote aloud at a recent Thursday post-SOP (School Overnight Program) debrief lunch to fellow IslandWood instructors and staff, we all gasped and applauded in appreciation. This kid has it exactly right! We are trying to teach them about life. This perceptive young student not only seemed to have learned something here, but also keenly sensed what the point of it all is. We've been found out!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The rain in the forest

IslandWood is getting soggier, that's for sure. November did not fail to blast us with rain from its very start. Last week, Adams Elementary and Madrona K-8, both of Seattle, came and saw and experienced IslandWood. We had our first really wet days; but I'd like to say that not only did the drizzle not damper our spirits, I'd venture to say it raised them. Here's a photo of my group, Team Wave, on the Learning Tree (our accessible treehouse), where we were surrounded by the heavy boughs of each of the five predominant native tree species of IslandWood. As I was reviewing some of the photos from the week, I was struck by how beautiful the scene looks; with the autumn-yellow Maple leaves stitched in with the lush Hemlock needles. It made me realize again that when kids see this for the first time, perhaps they are similarly struck with appreciation or awe. We visited this spot pretty much first thing on Monday, after their long trek here by bus, ferry, and bus again. At this point, two months into my stay here, the sights of IslandWood are more usual and unsurprising to me. But what must the kids feel and wonder about when they take this in for the first time? I feel like there's no way to know, but I hope it at least subconsciously made them feel good about being in this place for the next three days. I hope it put them a little more at ease about being so far from home, and made them eager to learn and see more.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Getting out and INTO the classroom

IslandWood is celebrated as an opportunity for us as teachers-in-training to embrace the outdoors and use nature as a classroom. But then there's the flip side, where we actually sort of take field trips into the classroom. Fun switch, huh? It is for me anyway, after living in big(gish) city Boston for two years and having to pointedly venture out of the urban environs to experience the wild environment I craved. Now I live on an island and go to "a school in the woods", but also have this great opportunity to appreciate the city in the same way I used to appreciate natural areas back home.

I'm talking specifically about my excursion this week to Greenwood Elementary School in Seattle, for which I am the IslandWood liaison contact for the whole year. We (the grads) each liaise with two schools this year, and get the neat opportunity to go into classrooms and connect kids' outdoor experience at IslandWood to their everyday lives and learning. In Greenwood, I walked around and got a sense of the community, and in the classroom, I observed a 4th/5th-grade teacher, Lisa Dunker-Olsen, organizing the kids in an exploration of a business plan unit. I was able to gauge the energy of the students and take notes on Lisa's techniques for managing them. She used humor, clapping cues, references to standards of respect, and one-on-one student guidance all within the short time I was there. I looked around the room and saw evidence of previous discussions on watersheds, including posters listing kids' ideas of "What we THINK we know about land and water" and "What we WANT to know about land and water." All great stuff to share with my fellow field instructors when it's time for us to prepare lessons for Greenwood students when they visit in December.

All this off-the-field, in-the-classroom direct contact with teachers and students bridged an important divide for me: what happens beyond IslandWood and what our broader impact on children looks like or could look like. It was this big relief: finally, I got to get out and see who these kids are. It's hard to describe, I guess, but I just wanted to express how lucky I feel that this program allows us to see all sides of our purpose here, and really get a chance to think about how best we can reach out to a kid from where they're at. The on-site outdoor learning of the School Overnight Program and the off-site outreach of the School Partnerships Program are pretty much a perfect marriage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hello from EEC Class of 2009!

Finally, it's time for us in the Education, Environment, and Community Graduate Class of 2009 to introduce ourselves. We are excited to get this blog going again, with an aim to give you lots of stories from the "front lines" of our experience, whether teaching in the field with kids or in other aspects of our crazy time here. My name is Kristen (or Kristen Coyote, as I tell SOP students), and I'll be joined by other grads, including Emma and Heidi, in sharing anecdotes, triumphs, and challenges during our year at IslandWood.

We have now been at IslandWood, on beautiful Bainbridge Island across the sound from Seattle, for about two months. We started out with some intensive training and coursework, which can be used as credits toward a master's degree in education at UW. Then we jumped right into hands-on learning in the field, starting by shadowing some returning alumni from the Class of 08, then team-teaching with our peers, and finally solo-teaching two weeks ago. There are 27 of us, and we're split into two cohorts, alternating teaching every other week. Right now, Cohort A is in the thick of it.

I'll share one thing with you before I sign off, just so you have an idea of what a long, exciting field day with the kids is like. Tonight I took Team Estuary, comprised of 8 students from Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle, out on a night hike. Night hikes are always a source of a bit of uncertainty, because you never know how 4th through 6th graders will react to being pushed out of their comfort zone and lead into the woods in the deep dark of the night. My group was striving for reaching Mac's Pond by only the light of the stars (no moon out tonight), but it required courage and teamwork from the kids to allow themselves to trust in me, their leader, to show them a cool experience. And parts of the trail got reallly dark, but we pressed on. When we reached the cool openness of the pond, a big sky of stars opened up before us and we had enough light to feel comfortable again. We laid on the pond dam looking up, and watched--in silence--the twinkling expanse above. I marveled at the hushed wonder that they showed, even though I had thought before that they may be too rambunctious or nervous to relax and appreciate it. We didn't have time for much else after that, but we walked in a trust walk all the way back to campus with lighter hearts and greater trust. We reached the bright lights of campus and everyone giggled with relief and excitement, knowing that everything did turn out OK, and it was actually kind of cool and perfectly fine to feel scared for just a little bit.

So anyway, welcome to our experience! We'll be back again soon with plenty more to tell.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Spring has Arrived

I think tomorrow it will begin, and I'm not talking about spring. Tomorrow is when the movie that is my life goes in fast forward. It’s been a long ride here at IslandWood and it comes to an end in 6 weeks. It'll happen fast too. I’m not sure when, if ever, I'll truly process this year in my life. At some point it’ll fall into place amongst the previous years. I’ve had 25 solid years so far, most of which I can’t remember or have only some vague recollection of. Memory is a tricky thing to grasp. Why should I trust it? It’s an imprint of a moment burned into our nerves. A shadow of a flame.

To truly remember something, I think I need a tangible piece of the memory to have in the present time. A letter, a photo, a trinket, a ticket stub, broken necklaces, books I’ve read many times over, even a memorable scent will bring back the images in my mind. I try to keep the things little, they’re easier to transport like that. I’ve gathered a few things from this year and someday I’ll reminisce about my year in the woods. For now, it’s time to keep this train rolling. My west coast adventure lumbers on into its second year.

After a summer spent cruising around the San Juan Islands looking for Orca, I’ll lay low in Seattle during the winter months as I finish my degree at University of Washington. I’m leaning towards the Science Education tract and getting pretty excited for some of the opportunities that may present themselves.

At some point I’ll drop my final post for the year. Who knows who has been reading, but I’ve enjoyed writing.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Integration of Technology

We just finished up a class called Integration of Technology and we had a final project that was to film a video. My group decided to create this, How to Track a Yeti. I hope you like it.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Celebrate those who've come before you

It's a shame I didn't come across this earlier. Seems like it would have been appropriate to break out again during alumni weekend. Alas, here are some pics from a long forgotten journal of sorts. Started by the grad class of 2002, it disappeared for 6 years until some current grads dug it up from the archives. 2002, when grads referred to their home as "PSeLovia" and had Christmas Trucks. Apparently, Adam had a beard at one time and then lost that beard. Jason walked into the glass door.

I thought a few people might enjoy visiting old memories. Don't worry, Class of 2008 is busy doing their part and continuing the entries. We'll be sure to deliver it to the grads next year. We've come to celebrate all those who've come before us. Surely, we must celebrate those that come next.


Monday, January 28, 2008


I hope this gives you a flavor of the weekend. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A New Year & The North Cascades

2008 has settled in nicely here on the west coast. After two weeks at home for the holidays, I returned to the cabin in the woods. My time at home was incredible, hanging with family and enjoying the late wake up calls. A New Years celebration ended with a 1pm flight on Jan 1st, which wasn't too bad considering the hour I went to sleep.

We got things started pretty quickly back at IslandWood. After a few days of re-orientation, the kids arrived and I was back teaching again. With that came the start of Winter semester. The classes are really interesting, especially the Non-Profit Management. It's a class not in the field of education, which makes it inherently different than the classes I'm used to taking, and the Executive Director is teaching it! Not too many places offer that. We're also taking our integration of arts & technology classes which have been a blast. We've done some improvisation work and we're getting started on video projects. I'll be sure to post a final product when it's completed.

The best of the New Year happened last weekend when 19 of the grad students traveled to the North Cascades Institute (NCI). We were meeting our fellow environmental educators at NCI as well as some apprentices from the Wilderness Awareness School (WAS). All told, there were about 30 or 40 people hanging in the snowy mountain settings, getting to know more about what we all do. The vision is the same, but the implementations are different and educative. It was a blast talking with other educators and simply enjoying the settings.

We drove up there after class on Friday afternoon. Saturday brought a days worth of fresh snow that fit nicely over top the already present 3 feet of icy covered snow. No snowshoes needed. We walked on top of a dam, standing 400 feet above the water. We saw cougar tracks, along with bobcat. Turns out, the north Skagit River is a winter home to hundreds of bald eagles. We spotted 40 of them. We made art in the snow. We made music in the cabin. We watched the moon glow. Mostly though, we watched the snow fall and got a few steps closer to saving the world.