Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Windy Week in the Woods

Another SOP teaching week has passed us by, leaving the EEC grads exhausted but enthusiastic about how much we've accomplished and learned since our arrival here, now nearly three months ago. Cohort A was joined this week by Madrona Elementary and Bailey Gatzert Elementary, two schools whose students crossed the Sound via ferry to engage in a week of exploration and discovery.

Like all teaching weeks here at IslandWood, this week brought with it enough challenges to test even the most experienced of teachers. Before the sun set on day one, high winds threatened the night hike, an evening activity that involves leading field groups through forest trails without the assitance of flashlights and head lamps. For the students, there is always a mixed reaction to the night hike; some are intimidated by the forest's shadows and seemingly never-ending darkness, while others embrace the challenge and eagerly await the opportunity to experience the outdoors like never before. On this day, though, mother nature breathed down heavily upon us, and the night hike was suspended due to the possibility of high winds. Red Alder trees are notorious for falling during wind storms, and because the night hike's setting embodies a vast forest dotted with Alders, IslandWood staff decided to make safety a priority and consequently adjusted the activity. Field groups played games and participated in typical night hike activities, but all was done in the safety of open fields near campus buildings. Later, several groups ventured inside various campus buildings and continued the evening under the veil of dark classrooms, using only dimly-lit candles for light during storytelling. Although perhaps not ideal, the night hike activities challenged the EEC field instructors to think quickly on their feet, an attribute of which we are all learning the importance.

Each week, two field groups are lucky enough to be able to participate in an activity called Dirt to Dinner. Students are able to work with IslandWood kitchen staff to help prepare meals and snacks for their fellow students using homegrown ingredients, many of which come from IslandWood's own garden. It's a great opportunity for students to learn about what grows in their own back yards and how to buy and cook with local goods. This week's student chefs cooked up quite a feast with a little help from IslandWood staff.

In an exciting twist, this week also saw the creation of a new indoor evening program called Science Fair. The indoor evening program is completed by half of the field groups, while the other half go out in the woods for the night hike. Then, the following evening, the groups switch venues so that everyone is able to complete both the indoor program and the night hike. This week's new creation was credited to Kate and Emily Jane, the school liaisons. The liaisons are EEC grads who take a week off from teaching to take charge of coordinating all of the group activities and behind-the-scenes logistics. The Science Fair program encouraged groups of students to move between various stations and experiment with common household products to gain a better understanding of important scientific principles. It was great to see students engaged in scientific understanding using everyday objects in a way that really reasonated with them. It helped them learn that science is everywhere and that they are scientists, too. Kudos to Kate and Emily Jane for the extended effort!

As always, the week wrapped up with the Wednesday evening campfire at the Friendship Circle, the usual group meeting spot for morning meetings before groups are released for field study. Both schools brought a host of talent this week, with performances that included singing, dancing and poetry reading. It is custom to end the campfire with a slideshow of photos taken throughout the week. The photos show the various field groups engaged in lessons and activities during their stay here at IslandWood, and the night never fails to create excitement within the crowd. Emotions are high as students lament the thought of going home the following morning. It reminds us, the field instructors, why we're here.

For the EEC grads, emotions run high, too, as the holidays draw near. Several grads will be making the long trek home this week and next to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. There are a handful, though, that will stay here and celebrate with our new IslandWood family. We'll have all the usual fixings and a guaranteed good time.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!