Wednesday, May 19, 2010

John Muir Elementary

Before we knew it, they were gone! Last week was a whirlwind of students, teachers, chaperones, and instructors. John Muir arrived in three busses ready to take on the great outdoors at Islandwood. The school community at John Muir Elementary is unlike many other public schools, and was absolutely beautiful for me to witness. As they were leaving on Thursday a teacher who stayed with my group for the entirety of the week referring to her students as “baby”, “sweetie”, and “precious”, hugged me and shouted, “I feel like we bonded”. It was so nice to hear because we had bonded in the same way that she has bonded with each and every one of her students, she cares if they succeed and that is what makes all the difference!

I was granted the privilege to spend the week with nine 5th graders, six girls and three boys from John Muir Elementary. On day one we completed the human knot, (a team building activity where you get them into a circle and they hold hands with people across from them knotting themselves up. The key is to become unknotted without ever letting go) with flying colors. During our debrief, without any prompt from me one of the girls in my group stated, “You know, this game is like my life because if I just jump into things without thinking, I may have regrets. But if I take my time and think things through before I do them, I can’t have regrets”. I was dumbfounded, it was such an insightful outlook from such a young little girl and I was so proud to be standing with her in that moment.

The Human Knot set the tone for our entire week. I had already planned to have a theme of perspectives that week. We talked quite a bit about looking at things or people through their eyes or by “walking a mile in their shoes” so to speak. The students took to the assignment immediately and we began right away by writing stories from the perspective of something in nature. On Tuesday we visited the cemetery and the students settled down next to a gravestone that “spoke to them”. They wrote beautifully detailed stories about that person’s life from their perspective, even citing historical events like The Great Depression and World War Two. On Wednesday we continued the theme by writing perspective stories while in the lab, focusing on the macro-invertebrates sitting in our petri-dishes.

On Thursday we completed our week of perspectives in the garden, looking as closely as we could at flowers, stems, vegetables, and caterpillars with small magnifying glasses. The students drew and colored amazing pictures of their object and added analogy poetry on the backside. The activity was quiet as they were each studying their own object but there was a hum of excitement as they each discovered new idiosyncrasies about things they see on a regular basis.

It's as tiny as a bug, as smooth as a rock, as soft as a newborn kitten, and it is as strong as metal. It may be small but it is the best of the bunch!

As a final plug, there is a new documentary being unveiled concerning the state of our education system and I urge everyone to attend a showing in his or her city. If after you are enraged, please visit your next school board meeting. The movie is titled Waiting for Superman and it is showing at the Seattle Film Festival on June 4 and June 5.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Days Gone By

With only four weeks left before graduation, the grads are busy writing papers, building portfolios and tying up loose ends with other final projects. In our Non-profit Management class, many grads are learning the grant writing process for a project that involves partnering with local non-profit organizations to write and submit proposals for funding. Grant writing is a detailed, intensive process, but for many grads who want to pursue non-profit work, the learning experience will prove worthwhile. Others are helping non-profits construct business and strategic plans to facilitate organizational growth. Non-profit Management is a good course for those interested in learning more about the inner workings of non-profits and also for those interested in pursuing informal education opportunities.

Many grads continue to make progress on their Independent Study Projects (ISPs). At IslandWood, ISPs present the opportunity to focus on individual areas of interest. I am working with five other grads and partnering with Seattle Parks and Recreation to help high school students tell their personal stories of stewardship through various artistic media. Working on this ISP has already presented opportunities to connect with the Seattle community, and I've been able to participate in beach clean-ups and public park beautifications. Next year, some of the IslandWood grads will continue to work with this Seattle Parks and Rec. program to shape Master's projects as part of the graduation requirements.

In the midst of all the projects and papers, we've somehow managed to remember to have a little fun. Last weekend, the grads gathered at the commons for an impromptu barbeque. Complete with games, food and fire, the gathering allowed the grads to relax and reminisce about the last year and how quickly it has gone by. With only four weeks left, we'd all like to have a little more time for barbequing, but we're also looking forward to the next step!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dinner in the Woods and An Adventure in the Woods!

After a year of planning, IslandWood's biggest annual fundraiser, Dinner in the Woods, was celebrated on Saturday. This was an all-hands-on-deck event, with every member of IslandWood's staff and almost all of the grads pitching in to help serve food, set-up, entertain the kids, check coats, photograph, schmooze, and clean-up. About 400 guests were ushered onto IslandWood's campus for the evening.
As they mingled before the banquet, many grads and other helpers presented them with trays of mouthwatering appetizers including such IslandWood originals as sunchoke fritters with onion jam drizzled with balsamic reduction and sour cream, rabbit empanadas, oyster shooters over a bed of smooth stones, and polenta squares with gorgonzola spread, sweet olive paste, and toasted sage leaves. The dining hall field was transformed the week before the event into a grand platform tent for the banquet (see video of the tent being built here) and decorated with elegant mint green table cloths and potted native plants available for the guests to bring home afterwards.

At around 6:30, the guests were seated and served a feast of roasted lamb, arctic char (a sustainably-raised fish with qualities of both salmon and halibut), asparagus, and a pilaf of ancient grains. As the foods delighted their taste buds, the guests bid on grandiose auction items like trips to Costa Rica and a custom glass sculpture by Preston Singletary, who also happened to be present at the dinner. A 5th grade student who had come to the School Overnight Program just a few weeks prior gave a brief speech about his experience, a teacher who has brought her classes to IslandWood for years told of its effect on her students, and a board member told about his perceptions of the program. After learning about all the remarkable things IslandWood does, the guests participated in Raise-the-Paddle, where they donated high sums out of the goodness of their hearts. This was incredible to see, knowing that each donation made was going to make it possible for more students to experience nature like never before. Dinner in the Woods was quite an extravaganza, and it was amazing to play a role in such an important part of IslandWood's future. Even though many of us worked late into the night clearing tables and cleaning the tent and kitchen, there was a sense of satisfaction and camaraderie that accompanied the feeling of a job well done for a good cause.

Today, Cohort E had a Natural History Super Monday session. While natural history courses at other schools might involve sitting in a classroom watching a powerpoint presentation or even walking around outside while the professor points out the leaf shapes of certain plant families, IslandWood's natural history classes are much more adventurous than that! Today, we tromped through the thick forest in a corner of IslandWood rarely seen by humans, down below the Teams Course.
We investigated new plants that are sprouting up with the warm spring sunshine like star flower, cascara, trillium, fringe cup, and spiny wood fern. We stared snails in the eye, or rather the tentacula, and swung from invasive ivy vines.
We crawled into the mouth of a glacial erratic shaped like a giant snapping turtle, and slid down slick muddy slopes. We discovered steep gullies, seas of stinging nettle, two coyote dens, deer bones, two western red-backed salamanders, a stalactite-like fungus, huge old-growth stumps, moss-draped big leaf maples, a dead shrew, all 7 kinds of ferns that grow at IslandWood, and a murky vernal pool.

Speaking of murky vernal pools...
Charlie decided to earn a quick twenty bucks from the rest of us by bellyflopping into one of them!

See what I mean by adventurous natural history classes?
I love IslandWood!