Pangea: A Metaphor for Holism

originally written by Paul Freedman for Pangea, the literary journal of Spring Street International School

I was excited to see the first issue of SSIS’ new literary journal. And even more excited by its title and all it implies. Pangea; the word is derived from the Greek “Pan” meaning all or whole, and “Gaia” or Mother Earth. Pangea refers to the prehistoric “super-continent” when all the Earth’s land mass appeared as a huge monolithic island surrounded by a single ocean. Over the past 175 million years, a tectonic dynamic has created the illusion of disconnected landforms and disparate oceans. However, upon closer inspection, of course, one can easily see that the oceans remain entirely connected, and that a single water molecule in time, could flow unobstructed around the planet. With just a little more imagination, namely picturing the earth with all of its surface water evaporated out, we also know that the separation of continents is similarly an illusion. All of Earth’s landmasses are still connected, albeit just a few hundred feet deeper under the water’s surface.

What are the implications of Pangea? What if the very notion of separation is itself an illusion based on our particular worldview? About 300-ish years ago, humans entered an era of consciousness during which an ontology of separation or “atomism” has been dominant. Based on the scientific orientation of thought-leaders such as Newton, Descartes and Bacon, the world became best knowable by dividing it into constituent parts (reductionism) and separating ourselves from it (objectivism.) This is in contrast to a far more mystical and magical worldview, which preceded this modern era. Over the past 300 years, Western culture has created and grown its institutions based on this modernist worldview. Recently, however, “holistic,” “integral” or “post-modern” thinkers have begun to question this paradigm, along with all of the cultural institutions that we have built from its possibly flawed foundation.

Let’s take schooling for example, a subject most familiars to Pangea’s readers. The modern American system of education grew from roots sunk deep in the Prussian educational model of the early 1800s. Horace Mann, often considered the “Father of American Public Education,” was charged with envisioning a model of schooling that would be most efficient and productive within the context of the American Industrial Revolution with its need for masses of competent, productive, and compliant workers. He looked to the Prussians, who, having been humiliated in the preceding Napoleonic Wars had invented a modernist and reductionist system of education that would train unquestioning, obedient and efficient soldiers as they sought to rebuild their military. Mann was duly impressed with the efficiency of the Prussian system. Thus was created the model for American compulsory public education. Students would be divided into grade levels. They would sit at desks, arranged in rows. Subject matter was divided into disciplines, disciplines into subjects, subjects into units and units into lessons. Students would line up, whenever possible, and move in unison from class to class. Bells would ring. Play would happen outside the building in set-aside periods called “recess” where all formal learning would cease just long enough to make work periods most efficient. Otherwise silence and stillness would be prized. Formal assessments and letter grades would identify progress relative to predetermined standards. In short, almost all the trappings of contemporary education were established.

But what if the entire system of American mass education was built upon a flawed assumption? What if, like Pangea, the separation is illusory? What if seventh graders could actually learn alongside tenth graders, or even adults? Why have such designations in the first place? What if Math, Art and Music were actually manifestations or aspects of the same large concepts, and were in fact conceived of as inseparable from one another? What if schools sought and celebrated collective wisdom rather than individual mastery and achievement? What if there was no difference between “work” and “play?” Could schoolwork be playful? Could play be rich with learning? Could learners be connected with nature, rather than isolated from it? What if the idea of a “science lab” were anathema, and that to derive anything of significance from the study of an object or organism, it had to be carried out within the living context from which the subject derived its very meaning and purpose? What if we ourselves, as scientists and observers could not be seen as separate from the subject of our study?   What other implications are there as we imagine a “holistic education?” What does a post-modern education look like? What is your vision?

The Hero’s Journey

This is the setting out…

Returning to the theme of courageous beginnings and the particular importance of celebrating beginnings at school, of which I wrote here previously, I am reminded now of what usually comes after beginnings, namely “middles.” Followed by “ends.” This is how great stories are constructed. Follow me for a minute, will you?

…The leaving of everything behind

Recently I had the tremendous honor and privilege of meeting a scholar and leader in the field of holistic education named Philip Snow Gang. One of the metaphors Phil likes to use in looking at the continually unfolding cosmos is what Joseph Campbell termed “The Hero’s Journey” or “The Monomyth.” This is an archetypal mythological structure that recurs again and again in the stories from cultures all over the world and throughout human history. The hero’s journey has many distinct parts (17 according to Campbell, other scholars have their own number) and predictable progressions of plot. Think of Homer’s Odyssey, (or Star Wars, or Finding Nemo if that comes more easily to mind.  Wizard of Oz? Karate Kid? Harry Potter?  You get the idea.) Anyway, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end to these stories, (“Separation, Initiation and Return” according to Campbell) and once you understand the basic narrative structure, you will find, as I have been finding lately, that this basic structure is omnipresent. It can accurately and insightfully describe the evolution of the cosmos, the lifelong journey of a human being, or in this case, a year in the life of a student. Now I am no literary scholar, nor Jungian psychologist. But I do love a good story, especially as it relates to our kids. And oh, this is a good one. As fall approaches, I’d like to focus on the first four stages of the Hero’s Journey, or Act I, you might say. It goes something like this…

Act I: Separation

Stage 1: Call to Action

In this first stage we find the hero (a.k.a. your little, or not-so-little, boy or girl) in a state of mundane normalcy. There is an inkling of restlessness before some information is received which serves as a call to action. To me, late summer is a perfect embodiment of this “mundane normalcy” combined with growing agitation and restlessness. “I’m sooo bored,” my teenage daughter whined last week. “It’s too hot. There’s nothing to do. Can’t we go somewhere or do something?” Sound familiar? “Well…it’s time to get ready for school. Shall we order your supplies?” “That’s not the kind of adventure I had in mind!”

Stage 2: Refusal of Call: Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty, obligation, fear, sense of insecurity or inadequacy, etc. With kids at a certain stage of development this refusal can be quite explicit, “I’m not going back to school.” Or it can just manifest as reluctance or anxiety. Stomachaches are common as are other ailments or complaints. With younger students there may be tears or regressions to more immature behaviors we had thought they had outgrown. And with older kids, it’s all about…att-i-tude!

Stage 3: Supernatural Aid: Once the hero has committed to the quest consciously or unconsciously, his/her guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. I am so curious about this one. Could this helper be an imaginary friend? A parent? A more distant relative, friend, sibling? Is it you? Me?? Who is it that will appear to help your child accept the risks associated with their quest? Keep an eye out for that special mentor, or else summon the courage yourself to become that very much needed guide for your child at this moment, as an important transition is approaching.

Stage 4: Crossing the Threshold: This is the point where the hero actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his/her world, and entering into a new realm where rules and limits may not yet be fully known. This is called the first day of school. Though it can last a week or more, especially for new students to a school or for children who are particularly sensitive. All of a sudden there are new norms and expectations, new people, a new environment, new rituals, and perhaps even new values or world views. This is an immense moment, and one that your children will need to process. Be ready to listen, observe and let them know that their experiences, observations and feelings are heard and validated.

These four “Stages” are the beginning of our young heroes’ journeys, my fellow parents. It is Act I, setting the stage, meeting the characters and establishing the goals and ground rules for the journey ahead. It can be full of drama and tension. And if all goes well, it will also be full of excitement and anticipation as well.

Teachers, of course are venturing on their own interrelated hero’s journey, but that’s “another story” – though one well worth telling some day. Your child’s teacher is undoubtedly on a grand and important adventure too! For now, though, we teachers will focus on preparing for the kids’ journeys. We will be doing all we can to help the kids to move safely and confidently “across the threshold.” There will be getting to know each other activities, community-building games, trust-building exercises and initiatives, and rich content to capture the imagination, and provide inspiration and momentum to the beginning of the adventure ahead. Mostly teachers will be watching keenly and listening deeply. We will create and hold the space needed for the journeyers to begin.

As the school year unfolds, I’d like to return to this concept of The Monomyth, or Hero’s Journey from time to time. There will be trials, temptations and triumphs. Emotions will include feelings of doubt as well as determination. What a grand narrative is about to unfold. Let us relish it together and share the wonder and mystery of our children’s journey of learning and self-discovery.

And once again, here’s to beginnings!

 

~Paul

 

The Setting Out: Marking Beginnings and Honoring Courage

This is the setting out.

The leaving of everything behind.

Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions.

The definitions. The language. The Narrowed field of vision. The expectations.

No longer expecting relationships, memories, words, or letters to mean what they used to mean. To be, in a word: Open.

~ Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Endings tend to be more ritualized than beginnings in this field of work. There are great graduation ceremonies full of pomp and circumstance, commencement addresses, and valedictorian speeches. But we don’t often seem to take the time that we should to pause and notice the enormity of beginnings: be it the first day of preschool, kindergarten, or just a new year. But at this time of year, I must tell you that beginnings are critical. They are huge. They are auspicious. They are pregnant with hope and expectation. As students walk into school on the first day, we should recognize the Herculean effort and the tremendous cultivation of courage on the part of students and teachers alike, and the Marianas Trench-like depth of trust required of parents as they hand off their children to “become educated” in our schools and institutions.

This is no small matter.

As a former student who has been through 19 years of formal schooling myself; then, as a school teacher of twenty-three years, a school leader of fifteen years, and as a parent of two teenagers, I am keenly and acutely aware of the thought, emotion and effort that goes into the lead up to this first day of school. This summer, I have spent months working on hiring, budgeting, cleaning and maintenance, curriculum planning, purchasing materials, recruitment and enrollment, negotiating financial aid awards and coalescing a team of teachers who are ready to set the world and their charges alight with the flame of learning. Students have gathered new clothes, reconnected with old friends, perhaps reviewed their times tables, and summoned their strength and determination. And parents have oscillated between the joy and promise of returning to the emptier quieter house, a familiar hallmark of fall, and the terror and sorrow of letting go of, or at least loosening the reins a bit on their most prized and deepest relationships- those with their children.

Courage. This all takes courage, especially here, “at the beginning,” and it should be duly noted and celebrated. Brené Brown says, “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart.” Courage has to do with cultivating inner strength, from our heart, and using it to propel us outwardly into the world. Courage is a combination of bravery, commitment and willingness to take a risk. We sometimes forget that for teachers, parents and children, summoning this courage requires a huge leap of faith, and it needs and deserves our collective recognition and support.

At Salmonberry School in particular, opening the doors each of the past fifteen years to the island’s children has represented an audaciously ambitious gesture of hope and commitment. As Rabbi Kushner suggests in the lines above, Salmonberry represents a “letting go of preconceptions” about what school is or should be. “What are schools for?” Ron Miller once asked in a book by that title. Is it really primarily about learning a prescribed age-tied set of standardized skills and facts, and assessing students’ progress on norm-referenced standardized tests? Salmonberry School has decided no, schools must be for so much more than that.

Our mission is about each and every day, showing up and wrestling with the existential question, “what does this child, this particular child, in this particular place, and in this moment need of me?” This demands great courage on the part of our educators. There is no “teacher-proof” or scripted curriculum here. Teachers do not have the safety of single-grade-level classrooms, with district approved textbooks, grade-level faculty teams and discipline-based departments where curriculum and procedures are handed to you. You create the world as a Salmonberry teacher. And, as Parker Palmer says, “we teach who we are.” And as Zoe Weill says, “The world becomes what you teach.” Courage.

Salmonberry requires great courage on the part of students. We don’t “do school” like they do it across the street or in more institutionalized settings. This model demands that you bring all of yourself as a learner. There is no hiding in our intimate classrooms. Nowhere is the comfort of anonymity. You are seen. You are heard. You are known, by your friends and by your teachers. You are asked to reflect on yourself and your own learning and to honestly evaluate your effort and progress. You are asked to share your thoughts and feelings. You are immediately thrust into the role of being an integral member of a community who expects you to participate fully. Courage is required.

Salmonberry demands huge courage from its parents. How can you trust a school that’s so unconventional in some ways. Will my child learn without homework, without tests, without grades? Friends and neighbors raise eyebrows and cast aspersions on your decision to “abandon” the public school, the nexus of our island community. This takes courage, real courage. And what if your child has a bad day, or seems to lag behind in her reading? Then what? How do you hang on to your trust and your core belief that the educators at Salmonberry have a handle on this, and that learning will occur beautifully and naturally at its own pace and in its own unique trajectory. And that’s okay!  “Sometimes love means letting go, when all you want to do is to hold on tighter.” Courage.

Today, I want to recognize that when all this courage is mustered by all the members of this learning community at one time; and when in one moment, one single glorious moment when the doors open on September 6. When teachers are ready to embrace kids, even if they are suppressing butterflies in their stomachs; when parents are ready to let go, even perhaps while fighting back tears. And when students enter the buildings with the commitment to be vulnerable, to be present and to fully engage with their friends, their teachers and own learning. This my friends is when magic happens!

I raise a glass of lemonade to you all on this hot mid-August day. And I toast your courage, and the alchemical magic I know it is about to inspire.

 

Salmonberry School Celebrates Crystal Anniversary!

It’s been fifteen years since Salmonberry School opened its doors. That means it’s time to celebrate a crystal anniversary! And crystal seems to be an appropriate metaphor for the school at this stage of development.

Crystal is a material with luster and sparkle. And after fifteen years in Eastsound, Salmonberry School is surely shining. This summer Salmonberry was proud to offer 17 different thematic summer camps for children age 3-12. Together these accounted for almost two hundred enrollments including homeschooled kids, Orcas Island School District enrolled kids, Salmonberry enrolled kids, Orcas Christian School kids and kids from all the island preschools, as well as a large number of off-island visitors. This was by far Salmonberry’s biggest and broadest palette of camps to date and included Farm Camp, Sewing Camp, Earthways Survival Skills, Music Camp, Messy Hands Art Camp and so much more! Salmonberry would like to thank all of those who joined in, even if just for a week. What a spectacular summer it has been! For the 2016-17 academic year, our three multi-age classrooms are each either full or approaching capacity. Parents report that their kids are happy and engaged and genuinely look forward to school. And kids echo this sentiment!

Webster’s Dictionary also says that “crystals are organically growing substances with many faces that are formed as the substance solidifies.” Salmonberry too continues to organically grow and solidify and this year will even be adding a couple of new “faces!” Salmonberry welcomes new faculty members: Andrea Lavezzi and Jessie Gonzales. Andrea, who joins our 1st-3rd grade class has been a lead K-12 teacher on Salt Spring Island. She also spent several years as a lead Art and English teacher in Oroville, CA.  She currently holds a WA state teaching license.  She is the mom of 5 yr old, Kingston. Jessie, who will join the preschool-Kindergarten class has been working in early childhood education for several years.  She recently taught at Children’s House and most recently at the Orcas Montessori School’s summer camp program.  She has also been working at The Funhouse.  She is well known and loved by many island kids and families!

Andrea Lavezzi
Jessie Gonzales

 

 

Returning teachers, Linda Ellsworth, Linda Henning, Kari Van Gelder, Emmy Gran, and Paul Freedman as well as music teacher, Tom Rawson and Spanish Teacher, Laura Black are delighted to be back for another year creating magic with our island kids. When teachers love school, kids love school. And when kids love school, amazing things can happen! Happy Crystal Anniversary Salmonberry. May the next fifteen years continue to witness growth and excellence, as you provide a quality holistic educational option for our island’s young people!  

 

Meet the Holistic Education Initiative!

 

Salmonberry Kids

I love Salmonberry School. I really do. It is the embodiment of so much I believe about nurturing child development and holistic education. I am fully and deeply committed to the 40-ish students who spend their days at Salmonberry School, the hundreds we see in the summer during our camp programs and the many hundreds who have come before and will follow after. And, yet, somehow, I always yearn to do just a little more – to reach a little further. This model of education is beautiful, joyful and works incredibly well in our little corner of the world. And I perpetually yearn to connect our corner to others. I have spent many years traveling to visit other schools, to talk to other school leaders, authors and activists and to attend, speak and present workshops at conferences across North America. It feels good to connect – to share what we do, and what we’ve learned over the years at Salmonberry, and to hear other stories and learn from others’ experiences. And…I still want to do more – to reach a little further.

Bellwether Kids

For the past ten years or so I have been reaching to the opposite corner of the United States to collaborate with a dear friend and colleague, Debbie Millon. For all these years Debbie has been Head of the Bellwether School, a sister school to Salmonberry founded by Dr. Ron Miller, who has been a great mentor to me. Much has been gained from this collaboration. We have shared friendship, collegiality and very practical nuts and bolts practices and policies. And…we both yearned to do more – to reach further.

Debbie and I finally met in person at a Holistic Teaching and Learning Conference in Winnipeg, in May, 2016. And now, the floodgates have opened! Debbie and I have created a new non-profit organization we are proud to call The Holistic Education Initiative (HEI). The HEI’s audaciously ambitious Mission is simply to unite and strengthen the field of holistic education. To accomplish this goal we will be pursuing several targets:

First, we are working to carefully select and collate a collection of articles, essays and other resources that articulate the core values and key beliefs of holistic education. This task has put me into direct contact with many of my heroes in the field. I have been passing essays and conversation back and forth with folks like Nel Noddings, Riane Eisler, David Sobel, Jack Miller and other brilliant scholars and holistic educators. This has been a personal thrill and also a very rich dialogue. Everyone I connect with has voiced tremendous enthusiasm and support for HEI and has been very happy to help. I feel so honored. We will also be facilitating networking by moderating an online blog, linking our site to other holistic schools, organizations and conferences, and informational websites from around the world.

Second, HEI will be raising funds from private donors as well as foundations in order to be able to fund proposals that will allow both individuals and organizations to further their study of holistic education and deepen their practice. We will grant funds to people to attend conferences, classes and workshops, travel to visit other schools, and partially fund new initiatives and projects.

Helping hands

Third, HEI will offer and coordinate consulting services for individuals and organizations who would like even more personalized and sustained support and mentorship as they reach towards new depths of understanding and practice.

I’m sure there will be even more aspects to HEI’s work. There is initial talk about sponsoring speakers, co-hosting conferences, perhaps even getting involved with founding a new peer-reviewed scholarly journal. True to our pedagogical beliefs in emergent growth and learning, we will stay open to what opportunities might arise.

Spreading seeds

I am so excited to move some of my energy into this new broader arena. Salmonberry School will always be at the center of my work in education. Now I feel like this core nexus is reaching out into the cosmos and joining a much much bigger and beautiful family! Salmonberry School…I’d like you to meet…the world! If you are interested in learning more about the Holistic Education Initiative, or learning more about holistic education, please visit the HEI website. It is intended to be a home for parents and educators alike who want to help nurture children in wholeness.

~Paul

With a chick-chick here…

What better way to spend the summer than with a flock of friendly sheep?  Perhaps a clutch of newly hatched chicks?  A little ukulele?

Salmonberry School has reached the halfway mark of its summer program offerings with resounding plaudits from the Orcas Island community.  And one glance at the calendar tells the story:  Traditional Woodworking: FULL.  Chickens 101: FULL.  Music and Storytelling: FULL.  Arts Around Orcas: FULL.  Sheep 101: FULL.  Salmonberry’s array of fun and focused summer classes, introducing kids age 3-12 to a wide range of traditional arts and craft has captured the imagination of island parents and children alike.

Last week 16 students spent a week with half a dozen sheep and lambs.  They visited with them each day and learned their names, breeds and personalities.  They learned all about sheep biology, life cycle, and husbandry, and then focused in on wool and fiber.  They got to try their hands at all stages of fiber-arts production.  They sheared sheep, washed, carded, and spun wool with a drop spindle.  They dyed wool in Kool-Aid.  They learned to knit.  And they had an incredible time in the process.  A totally immersive experience, these kids kept sheep journals, read sheep stories and created woolen art of every kind.

Salmonberry School follows a deeply integrated and experiential approach to learning throughout its regular school year, and has found that week-long summer classes are an ideal venue for introducing this approach to the broader island community.  Salmonberry’s Program Director Paul Freedman says, “not only is this kind of hands-on and integrated thematic learning incredibly fun and engaging, it is also consistent with everything educators know about brain-based learning theory.  When kids are actively engaged, using all their senses, and when explorations cross the boundaries of traditionally rigid academic disciplines, kids actually tend to learn more and with far greater retention.  And, most importantly they have fun.  And when a child loves school, whether it’s summer or fall, amazing things can happen.”

Next week, Salmonberry’s Art teacher, Andrea Cohen will take students on a plein-aire journey around the island.  Students will take sketch books into the forest, easels into farms and fields and even try a little found-object  en plein-aire collage!  They will also visit local artists’ studios to see professionals plying their craft using a wide range of media.

Earlier this summer, music educator and professional musician and storyteller Tom Rawson visited from Seattle to teach a week-long ukulele based music intensive.  Again the experiential learning was profound, and FUN!

“ ‘I wish I could go to this week of camp,’ is a common refrain heard from parents” according to Sheep 101 and Chicken 101 instructor Amy Lum.  “This is so awesome!” is how one of the students described their week of Salmonberry Summer Camp.

And remember, quality experiential and immersive learning shouldn’t be just a summer thing.  Salmonberry students love coming to school and that opens up possibilities you can’t imagine!

To Walk A Mile in Their Shoes

Compassion, empathy, understanding, caring; these are a few of children’s capacities that are explicitly nurtured at Salmonberry School.  Salmonberry teachers look for opportunities to tune kids in to the difficulties faced by others in our community and around the world.  Students investigate these real world issues and injustices and learn some of the skills to become critical thinkers, advocates and “solutionaries.”

A recent walk through Eastsound provided an occasion for Salmonberry’s third, fourth and fifth grade students to notice a wheelchair-bound citizen struggling to navigate some of the difficult sidewalks and steps in the village.  When they returned to class, students had questions about handicap accessibility and necessary accommodations for folks with limited mobility.  Subsequently, Grace Grantham’s Letter to the Editor in The Islands Sounder decried the challenges of dealing with limited-mobility in Eastsound.  With these two motivators – Ms. Grantham’s passionately written letter of frustration and their own firsthand observations, the students and teachers of Salmonberry’s intermediate grades class were drawn into further study.

Their first stop was the Orcas Senior Center, where Barbara Trunkey provided a beautiful lesson on the many types of physical challenges faced by members of the Orcas Island community.  She introduced the class to various types of adaptive equipment and their proper use.  Thus the students got to try out canes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs, and learned how to use them.

The next day, the students headed into Eastsound.  Here, students paired up and were given a particular “handicap,” an appropriate piece of equipment to assist their mobility and a simple errand to accomplish.  In this way, students set off in wheelchairs to mail a letter; used a walker on their way to use the public restrooms; used crutches as they went off to return a library book.  The experiential lesson on what it means to deal with a physical handicap or mobility impairment lasted for two hours.

When all was said and done, students had a newfound appreciation for the real challenges faced by those with physical handicaps and limited mobility.  Along the way, students had positive interactions with many curious island residents as they explained their project.  They also had a lot of insights, which they hope to share with business owners, the Orcais Island Chamber of Commerce and the EPRC (Eastsound Planning and Review Comission) in the near future.  “Doors were really hard.  It’s much easier when businesses put in power-assist doors,” said Charlie Brady, age 9.  “Some places were really slick.  When I was on crutches I almost fell on the stairs up by the library,” said Tashi Litch, age 10.  “That stretch between The Kitchen and The Homegrown Market where there’s no sidewalk and cars park right on the shoulder; there’s just no way to get through there in a wheelchair,” said Solana Zobrist-Mehl, age 11.

 

“I really think the kids got a lot out of this experience.  To literally walk a mile in someone’s shoes is such a powerful way to develop compassion,” said Salmonberry’s Program Director Paul Freedman.  “But that experiential learning was just the first step.  We have a meeting with Grace Grantham scheduled for next week.  I would not be at all surprised if these young people now become vocal advocates for those who face physical challenges, and they have a much greater appreciation for different perspectives in general.  We work hard at Salmonberry to develop the kids’ academic skills, and there is no doubt that this is a highly skilled group.  But education needs to be about much more than mastery of skills.  We hope that the academic skills are always in service to something meaningful, powerful and personally relevant.  This is what Salmonberry School means by the phrase ‘holistic education.’”

 

Walk For Water

Salmonberry students celebrated World Water Day with a walk for water through the village of Eastsound.  Preceding this walk-a-thon event students secured pledges from friends and family and then set out to walk to raise awareness of water resource issues around the world and to raise funds to drill wells in a draught stricken region of Niger, called The Azawak.  In this poorest region of the poorest country on Earth in some seasons children have to walk up to 35 miles to get access to fresh drinking water.

Salmonberry’s 1st and 2nd graders had been studying many aspects of water this year.  This study ranged from literature to biology, chemistry and ecology.  As classroom teacher, Jamie Mulliga-Smith describes it, “we have realized what a precious resource water is and how lucky we are in the Pacific Northwest to have such an abundance of this life-giving element.  When we heard about communities that are less fortunate, these young kids were moved to try and help and the adult community has rallied around this caring intention.  Soon the third, fourth and fifth graders joined in too and the whole school caught the infectious spirit of helping.”

The teachers set World Water Day as the particular date for this event and 25 walkers, age 6-11 set out that afternoon with the goal of walking a cumulative 50 miles.  When the day was over, however, these kids more than doubled this goal and exceeded 125 miles in all.  “I could have kept going,” said Ethan White, age 11.  “I wanted to jog so I could go farther but they (the teachers) said we had to walk.”  The walkers completed half-mile loops through Eastsound and teachers kept a tally of all the laps as they were completed.

Salmonberry Program Director, Paul Freedman said, “I believe that kids have an incredible capacity for caring.  We don’t need to shelter them from the realities of the world nearly as much as we do.  However, it is critical that as they learn about injustice and hardship, we also make sure there are tangible actions that the kids can take to contribute to positive solutions to the world’s problems.  Otherwise, there is a risk that kids are left feeling overwhelmed or with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.  Instead of “solutionaries” there is a risk that they just feel guilty and depressed. The adults must support the kids’ efforts to make this world better.  Then service learning can become a really transformative experience.”

This walk was done in conjunction with the organization, Amman Imman: Water is Life, and their particular youth-based fundraising project called, Wells of Love.  Interested people can make donations through their website at http://www.ammanimman.org/

Students Study Human Body

Dr. Jim Litch talks about the human spine with students Emma Freedman, left, and Tashi Litch.

In recent weeks, third, fourth and fifth-grade students at Salmonberry School have explored many aspects of the human body with guidance from their teacher Paul Freedman and two Salmonberry School parents who are local physicians.

“Dr. Jim Litch presented a terrific lesson on the structure and function of the human spine,” said Freedman. “He focused on keeping the spine and the nerves it contains strong and healthy, and on avoiding injuries when bike-riding and diving. He also talked about the diagnostic process for spinal injuries and conducted some experiments on our ability to sense temperature changes.”

In addition, Dr. Rachel Bishop led a fun and informative lesson in which students played detectives, examining a series of real x-rays for clues, according to Freedman. “The x-rays gave students clear pictures of the human skeletal system,” Dr. Bishop said. “Thanks to the Group Health Foundation for the loan of their spinal model, x-rays and other teaching materials.”

Dr. Litch is a family physician at Orcas Medical Center, and Dr. Bishop is a family physician at the Inter Island Medical Center on San Juan Island.

According to Freedman, other science lessons in the Salmonberry curriculum have emphasized the importance of a balanced diet for health and wellness. “We like to integrate strong academics with active learning to inspire our students to develop as creative thinkers and doers,” he said.

Salmonberry Students Get Active and Go Public

Salmonberry Elementary School students have launched a community-based civics curriculum that has recently brought them directly into the public spotlight, which has included a well-received presentation at a recent meeting of the San Juan County Council.

These 13 students, age 8-11, have followed their own curiosity about some of the current issues on Orcas Island and begun to explore some of the questions with which the adult community has been grappling: solid waste, bike and pedestrian safety, the question of the proposed Fern Street Extension, and various issues related to handicap accessibility in Eastsound.

On a recent walk through Eastsound, students noticed a profusion of litter. They, and their teachers looked for the nearest trash receptacles only to realize that there were no public cans to be found. This realization led to research. They learned about the cost of solid waste pickup and they began to devise a plan. Students formed a new organization they are calling K.E.L.P. (Kids for the Environment through Litter Prevention.) Through this organization, and in partnership with members of the Eastsound Planning and Review Committee (EPRC) these young activists formulated a plan. They would pledge to raise the funds necessary to pay for one week of garbage collection for 6 new cans in Eastsound. Then they would talk to people and try to build partnerships with businesses, non-profit organizations, civic groups and individual citizens to see if they could fin enough partners to fun a full year’s trash collection.

While they began to draft letters to potential partners including the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, they also took advantage of the February 7 meeting of the San Juan County Council. Ethan White, 11 and Charlie Brady 9, accompanied by their teacher Paul Freedman, put their names on the agenda for the public comments portion of the Council’s agenda. Then, after patiently waiting for their turn, in the semi-formal setting of the Outlook Inn’s Victorian Room, they stepped up to the oversized podium and confidently and eloquently read a letter explaining the nature of the problem as they see it, as well as their proposed solutions. To begin, Ethan read, “Thank you for this opportunity to speak about something that is very important to the kids of Orcas Island: Litter. We care about how our town looks. And we care about the environment. We worry about the birds and animals that might try to eat litter, and the water quality of the bay where the ground litter will eventually end up.”

After the boys concluded They received a round of applause from everyone in attendance and lots of appreciation from individuals. Later, in the lobby of the inn, the two boys received an invitation to share their ideas at the next meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Board. And they also later heard about a planned donation from the SJCC in support of the project.

“ I am so proud of Ethan, Charlie and all the kids in this class at Salmonberry,” said Freedman. I believe in part, school should be about introducing young learners to the intimate processes and practices of democracy. Democracy doesn’t only happen on CNN, it is a complex governance model that includes trying to make best possible decisions within the place where one lives. It is about entering community, sharing dialogue, and mustering the generous spirit required to improve and enrich the lives of everyone. Young people need to practice the skills of democracy and not just learn about democracy in books if they are to become effective leaders and change-makers in the future.

“This project brings together several key aspects of Salmonberry’s unique approach to education: the curriculum is determined in part by students’ interests and passions; meaningful learning can and does happen outside of the classroom walls; service learning is a critical component to education and education is not only a preparation for later living, it is about doing real work in the present.”

Later in the day, all the Salmonberry elementary students participated in a community-wide rally in support of The Exchange, Orcas Island’s re-use site. This was a fun and joyful way to show support for one part of a sustainable vision for solid waste.

Future projects that this Salmonberry class is currently working on include building bike racks for public use in Eastsound, and borrowing wheelchairs and walkers to explore the town of Eastsound with limited mobility.

Any individual or organization who is interested in pledging financial support to K.E.L.P.’s project to bring trash and recycling receptacles back to Eastsound may contact Paul Freedman at info@salmonberryschool.org or 376-6310.