Thursday, June 3, 2010

Coming to a Close....

(An entry I wrote for the main IslandWood blog...)

The year is wrapping up. Both cohorts have finished their last weeks of solo teaching. The only things that lie between us and graduation are a week of team teaching and presenting our independent study projects, non-profit management projects, and portfolios.

In these last couple weeks, many of us have been doing some final reflections on what this year has meant to us.  We have turned in official assignments to our instructors and mentors in which we have reflected on our growth as an educator, but we have also been chatting casually around the Commons and over cups of iced chai teas at the Treehouse Café down the hill about how much we have grown in all realms of life this year.  Although everyone is taking their own unique lessons from their IslandWood experience, many of us feel like we have grown monumentally as educators, members of a small community, and personally.

As educators we have been pushed to try approaches we've never tried before, worked with kids who have had life experiences that make it very difficult for them to be in a new environment like IslandWood, and debriefed our experiences, both successful and unsuccessful a million times with our peers, mentors, and instructors to seize all the possible opportunities for growth.

As members of a small community, we have had to figure out how to be with the same 29 people practically 24/7. We live together, we eat together, we work together, we take classes together, and we socialize together. We've been in quite the IslandWood bubble all year, which has brought its fair share of frustrations, but more important are the laughs and the compromises and the ways we have learned to understand one another. Even after long days of teaching and very little sleep, we have learned to love each other despite our quirks and flaws and to be patient with one another as we all try to figure out our lives.

And even with the due dates for our big projects looming and a long year of work and growth on our backs, we still find time to jump out of the bubble and savor the occasional ice cream cone at Mora's in Winslow or dance to groovy beats at the Folklife Festival in Seattle.

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!

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.