When you are on campus, you hear things. You hear what the students are excited about and what they are looking forward to. While in a small group discussion last weekend, I took note when several students reported enthusiastically that they were looking forward to their combined History and English class in the Sylvania, where they would be "spending basically all day outside in the woods!" I was curious and wanted to know more, so I started asking questions and learned that History and English classes would be combining lessons for a full afternoon in the Sylvania Wilderness Area. The lesson is performed in the cold, wind, and deep snow, on purpose. When I asked English teacher, Jeff Rennicke, to tell me more about the lesson he had much to say. It turns out that the teachers are as enthusiastic as the students. I will share with you his passionate words:
"This is a classic Conserve School day. It gets to the heart of what Conserve is all about in my view. It is a day of "felt learning" not book learning, lessons they feel in their muscles, bones, and hearts, not out of a book.
It has two parts: in History, they are studying the Shackleton Expedition and on this particular experience they are reading about the amazing South Georgia Island Traverse, one of the great wilderness expeditions in history, a crossing of uncharted territory filled with mountains, glaciers, and deep snows every step on the edge of disaster or survival. To feel just a bit of this, to feel the burn in their thighs as they trudge through deep snow, to feel even a bit of the same cut of wind, the edge of wilderness, we break up into four teams and snowshoe deep into the heart of the wilderness, breaking trail, navigating, facing a bit of the same unknown and then sit in the snow and read their amazing story.
They "feel" it, not just read it. It goes deep in their bones with the fatigue. Years from now, when they hear the name Shackleton, they will remember the day they walked in his footsteps.
In English, we are finishing up our Spirit Guides. We have studied the spirits, creatures, monsters, people have created from many cultures through the ages associated with Wilderness. As we finish this unit, we look at a contemporary American nature writer, Terry Tempest Williams, who writes of visiting her favorite place - Stone Creek in the Grand Canyon - and feels a "spirit" watching over it. She describes this spirit, its attributes and powers. After we read the essay, we speak of Wilderness spirits and then look around at the wilderness we have just traveled into. The students, using art and their imaginations, draw and imagine a "spirit" that watches over Sylvania. They are then taxed with creating a spirit in their spirit guides that protects and watches over their own favorite wild place.
It is a day of Shackleton and spirits - felt knowledge - using their muscles, their imaginations, their brains, and their ... spirits, through art, reading, discussion, and living their lessons."