Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad's Perspective
Living at the Environmental Learning Center near Diablo, WA changes how we approach everyday decisions. Little trips, for instance, turn into a three day down valley adventure! This last weekend the 15th graduate cohort (along with a few from the 14th) traveled to two conferences in three days: Storming the Sound and Curriculum for the Bioregion.
Our first leg of the journey had us hit the road at 6 am from Diablo. After so many wilderness journeys with my cohort it was strange to see what “gear” changed and what didn’t with this adventure into civilization. No tents. No trekking poles. But some still packed in their hiking backpacks! After a few hours travel along SR 20, we arrived in La Conner.
First leg of our three day trip. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.
Storming the Sound is an “annual conference for environmental educators in the north Pudget Sound region.” Since 2000 in Padilla Bay Reserve, the event has brought environmental organizations, teachers and students together to not only learn from one another but to better connect the environmental education field in the Puget Sound region. There were thirty one sponsor organizations this year which gave us graduate students a great view of how strong the environmental education presence is in this region. This year’s event was held in Maple Hall in La Conner, WA.
The event started with a keynote from Dr. Francisco Rios, dean of Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education. His address started with a quote from Sandy Grande, an associate professor of education at Connecticut College:
Classrooms, like forests, are life-giving only insofar as the complex network of systems and relations that sustain them are cultivated and appreciated.
He explained that as educators we need to create our classrooms, both inside and out, to be as complex and “life-giving” as our wild places for our students. This will not only develop them as learners but it will help develop them as people. To do this he suggested four steps first proposed in A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Rethinking Schools.
- Challenge the dichotomy between people and the earth.
- Everyone is impacted by environmental crisis, though not equally.
- Think in terms of systems and in interdisciplinary to highlight connections.
- Teach in ways that are lively, playful, imaginative, hopeful.
Francisco Rios giving a keynote about how we need to rethink our curriculum across all fields of study.
Francisco then asked Dr. Victor Nolet to discuss his work with Facing the Future, an organization at Western Washington University that creates tools for environmental educators.
We were fortunate enough to have four in our cohort give two presentations at the conference. Sasha Savoian and Aly Gourd presenting on our Use of Journaling in Experiential Education and how it pertained to our summer course traveling through the North Cascades. Annah Young and Zachary Lundgren discussed our Foodshed Initiative at the Environmental Learning Center.
Zachary and Annah discussing how our Foodshed Inititive functions during Mountain School.
During lunch we were treated to a play written by Wendy Walker, a senior instructor at Huxley College of the Environment at WWU. Titled “Nobody’s Ever Alone in the Forest” the play was mainly a conversation between a Douglas Fir and young Western Hemlock about how connected every thing is in a forest ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. Students of the Environmental Interpretation class performed with student Kyra Skaggs directing.
Douglas Fir (right) explaining to Western Hemlock (middle) how a volcanic eruption (left) can help forests by depositing nutrient filled volcanic ash.
After the conference was over we ventured up to Bellingham to best prepare for the next leg of our journey. The next day we stopped by the North Cascades Institute’s Sedro Woolley office for a four hour class on Budgeting a Non-profit with the Fiance Director of the institute, Jason Ruvelson.
Second leg of our three day trip. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.
Our trip after class had us traveling to Seattle so that we were much closer to the conference in Tacoma the next day. The highlight of the night was seeing the Fremont Troll: a large stone statute holding a VW Beetle that lives underneath the Aurora Bridge.
Fremont Troll. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
Our last day in our down valley adventure had us taking a short trip from Seattle to Tacoma were we would be meeting at The Evergreen State College in Tacoma. The conference that day was a Curriculum for the Bioregion event titled “Inquiring into an Ethic of Place.” The tone of being conscience to our belonging in place started with an explanation of the building we were in. Starting in 1972, as Planning Unit Coordinator and Faculty member Tyrus Smith explained, the college has been a keystone for upper-division, interdisciplinary studies in the community. Their motto of “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve” has challenged each graduate to make their community a better place for all.
One of the ways we learned from one another was having a discussion on a few readings about place including these two about nature being connected in an urban setting (cover photo). Some of the engaging sessions that we attended during the conference were:
- Can We Teach an Ethic of Place When We are Stuck in the Classroom?
- Bringing Back the Wealth: Indigenizing the Campus: Reflections of a Learning Community in American Indian Studies.
- Exploring Place in Cyberspace: Pedagogical Field Notes for Teaching an Ethic of Place in Fully Online Courses
When the conference ended we then made the three hour journey (not including Seattle traffic) back to our residence in the mountains. Even though Tacoma and La Conner are drastically different than our mountain home we got to see how environmental educators across the region are engaging with all the communities in the Pacific Northwest region.