Mountain!!! School!! Stories!
Though Mountain School has been on hold for the past two weeks due to the government shutdown, instructors did get to teach three weeks of it, which amounted to 315 students from eight schools between Seattle and Bellingham. Graduate students, seasonals, and interns were off to an enthusiastic start, excited to introduce down valley elementary students to this green and wet ecosystem. Every group was properly inaugurated into the North Cascades by at least one day of rainy weather.
After the school buses head back toward Highway 20 and home, and the Environmental Learning Center is oddly quiet once again, instructors inevitably have funny, surprising, and often pretty sweet stories to share about their time with the kids. Here are a few to start the season off, and get us through this unexpected blip of not having students here to teach.
From graduate student Samantha Hale:
“I had a student who asked me for homework because he wanted to keep doing exciting things. Also, one who told me he was glad he was with my group, instead of being with all his friends because he realized he wouldn’t have paid attention if he was with them. Without that distraction, he said he could learn cool things with me instead. And then there was the girl who took me under her wing to teach me plants because she knew them WAY better than I did!”
From Carla Eckland, a seasonal instructor:
“One of the students from Lowell Elementary that was in my Raven trail group was a new kid in the classroom and had just moved to the Bellingham area. On his postcard [that the students write on the last day to themselves which we send to them a couple months later], he shared that he was glad he went to Mountain School and had the experience with the other students because now he thinks he will make good friends. I found it so heartening to know that I helped facilitate his adjustment to his new school and the new social group. His hope for new friends is a testament to how important the Mountain School trail group experience can be for creating a positive community dynamic in the classroom that the students can continue back at school.”
And in my own trail group with fifth-graders from Island View Elementary in Anacortes, I was told by a student, who kindly offered the disclaimer, “don’t take offense,” that the way I touch everything was reminding her of how kindergarteners touch everything. I laughed; she was right, I was touching everything — the rock faces, the ferns, the decaying nurse logs. I let her know I considered this a compliment, since little kids are very good at learning things about the world around them through all of their senses, and that we would do well to follow suit. I don’t think she believed me, but it was a fun, and funny, conversation nonetheless.
These are the true, trailside tales I recall as I wait out this government shutdown with my fellow instructors, anticipating a day soon when the students return and give us fresh and hilarious, sentimental and inspiring, stories to share.
North Cascades Institute graduate student and Mountain School instructor David Krzesni introduces students to the wonderful things scientific tools can do! Photo by Matt Kraska.Leading photo: Surrounded by Doug firs and mossy rocks, North Cascades Institute graduate student and Mountain School instructor Elissa Kobrin teaches her trail group about this lowland forest ecosystem. Photo by Matt Kraska.
Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program, and is an editor of Chattermarks. She still likes to fondle fern fronds, even when she gets called out on it.