Bringing Mountain School back home

Title Conclon's class

What happens at Mountain School does not just stay at Mountain School.
With winter’s silence embracing the landscape up at the Learning Center, the laughter of Mountain School students seems all but a distant echo, fading as the Skagit flows down valley. The excitement, the energy, travels wherever the students fare. And where they fare is their respective home grounds.
The first few weeks of December mark post-trip visitation time to participating schools of the fall season’s Mountain School. Several of North Cascades Institute’s graduate students have traveled north to Bellingham to visit Carl Cozier Elementary, Geneva Elementary, Wade King Elementary, Larrabee Elementary, Happy Valley Elementary, Whatcom Hills Waldorf School, and Birchwood Elementary. Others have traveled south to Bellevue and Bothell to check-in with the Eton School and Evergreen Academy.
Venturing down valley not only means bringing Mountain School back into the lives of the students but also, it gives the students an opportunity to show our instructors the lives in which they lead all year long and how Mountain School has impacted them.
Erin, Justin, and I ventured to Bellingham on the first Wednesday of December. It was a beautifully clear and cold day, indicative of the changing seasons and of the passing of time since fall Mountain School. We were greeted by expansive grins and excited cheers as we entered Lisa Conlon’s 5th grade science portable at Larrabee Elementary. Already we were seeing the Mountain School experience’s influence, as we gazed upon artistically hung pages of students’ field journals on classroom walls.

D'Hondt goofy pic(Title) 5th graders from Lisa Conlon’s science class at Larrabee Elementary School (Above) Mike D’Hondt’s students get goofy at Happy Valley Elementary’s post-trip visit

Our visits to the schools consisted of a cognitive-mapping exercise intended to assist in our assessment of student learning. Students are asked in pre-trip Mountain School visits to write things they feel comprise a healthy, natural environment. After the residential program experience, they are then asked to draw upon their knowledge gained to either redefine or further solidify their list.
Students also get to revisit their memories of Mountain School by choosing one significant memory and placing it upon a Mountain School Memories group poster that will be hung in their classes throughout the year.

Kealy photoStudents pose from Elizabeth Kealy’s 5th grade at Happy Valley Elementary

After presented with a special letter written to them from North Cascades National Park Superintendent, Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, the students get to share various projects they have worked on and are proud of with us. I recall fondly the A-B-C booklets composed of paper lunch sacks, twigs, and twine in Elizabeth Kealy’s and Tara Vodopich’s 5th grade classes at Happy Valley Elementary – jewels of expanded knowledge sparked by Mountain School.
Bringing back Mountain School to the students through post-trip visits are a special experience for both students and instructors alike. As awe-struck as they come to be in the North Cascades National Park, Mountain School students are reminded of the importance of keeping that awe apart of their daily lives back home. Post-trip visits also remind them of the lasting relationships not just with the place, but with the people.

Vodopich picTara Vodopich’s 5th grade class with their Mountain School Memories poster

A beautifully clear, cold day was concluded with the Fred the Moose song and an ode to all students, which I hope they will never forget – You will always be a part of Mountain School.

Photos courtesy of Erin Fowler & Justin McWethy.


  1. Carolyn

    I think it’s great that you are doing these post-trip visits! I’d love to hear more about the students’ responses to the activities. This is how we know that Mountain School really works – way to educate!

  2. Meghann Willard

    Students at Carl Cozier were visited by Sarah, Kelly and myself. They are also doing great things to connect their lessons learn at Mt. School back in the classroom. We enjoyed getting to see the last set of student taught by C8 grads. Glad you all had some fun in the classrooms too. :o) Enjoy your winter!

  3. Kelsi Franzen

    Thank you for the great feedback! Once we look over and compare the students’ cognitive mapping activities, we will let you all know. Thanks, Meghann, also for the update on Carl Cozier. For some reason the list Heather gave me did not include Carl Cozier. My bad for including it in the list! I’ll add it now!

  4. Jeff Giesen

    Love the pictures. Classroom visits are so fun and the kids love seeing all of you on “their turf”.

  5. Jenny

    Oh what fun! I am so excited that you all got to go to the schools. It is so inspiring to see the students again!

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