Saturday, April 24, 2010

An incredible journey!

With only eight weeks remaining until graduation, only four of which are teaching weeks, feelings of excitement, regret, sadness, and anticipation are settling in. This experience has been incredibly meaningful and rewarding and I know that I will take what I have learned at Islandwood with me into the next adventure of my life! The final quarter is upon all of us and our Independent Student Projects are at long last, underway! There has been talk of them for quite some time and a running joke of, “Yes, this great idea is going to be my ISP,” only to find that it inevitably changes the very next week.

The ISP’s vary extensively as you can choose anything that you fancy to work on while receiving credits for the hours you put in. I, for example, have decided as an amateur gardener, that I would like to gain more skills in that area. As such, I have found a beautiful yet lonely raised bed garden on the island housed at a Buddhist temple that hasn’t received any love in over three years. The monks are often away and have been kind enough to allow me to “move in” and make the space my own! Other graduate students are writing grants, building fire kits for future students, and working with the Boys and Girls Club in Seattle to make their program more earth friendly! The options are endless and many grads are finding the experience fulfilling and engaging as we are in control of the outcome.

The weather is turning and the sun is showing its face on a more regular basis. Today it shined for the entire day and it was warm enough for flip-flops, gardening and a doggy visit to the beach! The night hikes are actually becoming crepuscular creeps again (just as they were when the year began) and they do not hold the same daunting appeal as they used to! This past week, even at 8:15pm when I was dropping my students off at their lodges as the night hike was coming to an end, dusk sat motionless for an additional 20 minutes. In a rather forgetful moment of ease, I had preceded as usual with my night hike activities until they were brought to an absolute halt at the finale of my “magic rocks” story.

Magic rocks you inquire? Let me explain… the instructor tells an elaborate and jaw dropping tale about losing their way in the wilderness and darkness creeping upon them. They began to become frightened when all of a sudden a rock broke off in their hand that lit up and guided them all the way down the mountain safely. The instructor proceeds to tell the motionless and awe stricken students that they have brought some of the “magic rocks” back for them to try but to create the same light that appeared on that beautiful night, we must chew them with our mouths open. The students eagerly put out their hands awaiting the “magic rocks” they had only seen in the movies. Yet on this fateful evening the students attempted the task only to find that it was not dark enough to work and my story had been shamed! You see, the “magic rocks” are Wintergreen Lifesavers and the scientific process occurring is called triboluminesence… try it at home in a dark room, it works!

Wednesday arrived and with it a sore throat! BUMMER!!! If you have worked with children before, then you know the drill, if not, then start pumping your body full of nutritious goodies now to prepare your immune system! Sickness comes with the territory and many of us have had our bouts this year and had to take a day or three to recover! Luckily, I am feeling better and am extremely proud of all of the grads, we have worked incredibly hard this year and our journey is about to come to an end!

Monday, April 12, 2010

There's something fishy going on around here...

Over the last few weeks, we've been fortunate to have been visited by professional, working artists and friends of IslandWood's School Overnight Program. Our Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program allows SOP students to participate in up to 2 hour sessions with the visiting artist. Throughout the year, artists visit the program and provide in-depth instruction to a handful of field groups throughout the week. Visiting artists come to IslandWood from a variety of backgrounds and specialize in many disciplines, including printmaking, drumming, poetry and song writing, weaving and others.

Last week, we were visited by Larry Telles, an artist and fish biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, Larry and his team met with six field groups and introduced the students to a unique form of printmaking in which students used real salmon to paint and lift prints. While seemingly unconventional at first, students quickly warmed to the technique and created some vibrant and detailed prints. Larry's method involves a real salmon (either fresh or previously preserved by freezing) that is laid on its side and painted with acrylic paints. Then a sheet of paper is placed over the fish and pressed by hand. When the paper is removed, the color salmon print is lifted onto the paper.

In addition to teaching the students about fish printing, Larry also talked to them about his role as the Project Leader at the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery in Northwestern Oregon. With more than 30 years of experience in the field, Larry has worked with fish hatcheries throughout the Pacific Northwest and is knowledgeable about multiple species of salmon and other fish. During their sessions with Larry, the students learned about salmon life cycles and their roles within our culture and ecosystems.

Artists like Larry help our SOP students explore the ways in which science and art are both interconnected and extremely valuable to our learning environment. We look forward to continuing our relationship with AIRs!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Weekend at Wilderness Awareness School

A few weeks ago, instructors from IslandWood and North Cascades Institute (NCI) converged at Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) for the second portion of the exchange between the three programs. The first portion of the exchange was at NCI and can be read about here.  It was good to see familiar faces from our weekend at NCI but this time, the scenery was a little different. Instead of tall snowy peaks gazing down at us, we were amidst mossy vine maples and tall cedars in a little pocket of forest right outside the town of Duvall. We had gathered some preliminary knowledge of WAS's programs from chatting with their instructors at NCI, so we knew that they took more of a "listen to the earth" approach than the other two programs, but we didn't know what we were in for when we arrived to spend the weekend there.

From the very beginning, their instructors helped us explore by engaging all of our senses and asking us questions to guide us to a deeper understanding.  They taught us how to use owl eyes, fox feet, and deer ears in order to be aware of as much as possible around us.  They encouraged us to slip off our shoes to truly feel the ground beneath us and walk even more silently, then, barefoot, we padded to find our own special place within the trees, a Sit Spot, from where we could observe the world around us.  They took turns telling us the story of how Wilderness Awareness School came to be as we sat around a fire that had been started with a hand drill in a round hut called Malalo ya Chui, which means Lair of the Leopard.  

We learned bird language, experienced the WAS questioning approach, discussed edible plants, and tried our hand at a 2-match fire.  We had a pasta potluck that evening, complete with stinging nettle tomato sauce, and chatted while passing around one of the WAS instructors baby, Wilder. After dinner, we played games of stealth in front of the blazing wood stove, then a small group of us hiked through the darkness down to the pond to star gaze.

After a night spent shivering in my sleeping bag in below freezing temperatures, a cup of coffee and my enthusiasm to learn more about WAS's programming gave me energy to face the new day. Between sips of freshly brewed hemlock tea, a group of us learned how to make bow drill sets and sat whittling away around a fire until we all had our very own bow drill kits to bring home.  While we made our kits, other groups tracked cougars, followed the beat of a drum blindfolded through the forest on a Drum Stalk, and explored the rest of WAS's land, called Linne Doran, meaning Pond of the Otter. 

When all the groups finished, we came together to try making a coal using a giant bow drill kit.  The drill was about 3 feet tall, so it took a lot of us to pull the rope wrapped around it back and forth to get the base board hot enough to form a coal. But we did it, and it was sure a sense of accomplishment! Before leaving, we had an enlightening conversation about the natural directions and the indicators of awareness within teaching. They're hard to explain, but in brief, they are part of an educational theory that is based on the natural tendencies of humans over the course of a day and the course of a program, including energy levels and times for reflection. I found a lot of truth in the theory and you can learn more about it in Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature, the book on everything WAS. 

It was an incredible weekend and all of the IslandWood instructors who attended picked up new approaches to teaching that we have been weaving into our School Overnight Program lessons. I personally have started doing Sit Spots, animal senses, bird language, and a story of the day with my students, all of which I learned more about at WAS. The instructors from NCI, IslandWood, and WAS also formed a warm supportive community, the ties of which will hopefully hold strong into the future.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"See Ya Later, IslandWood" Song

This is the chorus of "See Ya Later, IslandWood," a song written by Emily Jane Schankerman, one of the current IslandWood grads. We sing this song to the students every Thursday at the end of the closing Friendship Circle ceremony. The verses sum up much of the IslandWood experience in a reflective and joyful way, and the chorus that's captured in this video speaks to how uniquely special IslandWood is. This video was taken today as the four schools who were here, Silverwood, Breidablik, Children's School of Excellence, and the Attic Learning Community, wrapped up their week. Enjoy!