During our first week of teaching in the School Overnight Program I was partnered with a fellow graduate student to lead a field group of students from Bryant Elementary in Northeast Seattle. As a graduate student in the Education for Environment and Community program here at IslandWood, I was grateful to have another instructor to support me in this new experience.
We traveled to the luscious IslandWood garden and took a “solo walk” in which students followed the directions on cards we laid out on the trail, such as turn right, look up and count the shades of green, or howl like a coyote. Throughout the week students followed the trail to the Learning Treehouse, crossed the Suspension Bridge, and investigated the pond by paddling out to the middle on the Floating Classroom. Each time we embarked on a new adventure, we asked students to line up and turn their backs to us. We then asked them to use their fingers to show a number between one and five, five being completely comfortable and one being pretty terrified. We always got a mixture of numbers in anticipation of the physical challenges we were proposing, and students worked very hard to overcome their unease at each turn. It was an amazing first week.
One student, M, was a seemingly master participant. She consistently raised her hand first, always willing to share an idea with the rest of the group, even when her voice trembled or she felt unsure of her answer. I could tell that speaking up was a departure for her, but she did it with the frequency and determination of a student knowingly pushing her comfort zone.
At the end of the week, my fellow instructor, Martha, led the group in what is affectionately called a “Yes Circle.” The group stands in a circle, one hand extended with fists touching in the middle. Each person shares a moment of victory, be it personal or collective. As each participant shares, we all bend our elbows toward our waists, pull our fists in and exclaim, “YES!” We went around and finally got to M. In her quiet voice she shared, “I learned that bravery comes in many forms.”
I couldn’t yell the word “YES!” loud enough. Having this young woman explain that the activities we’d asked her to engage in made her feel bravery in forms she hadn’t considered felt like such a huge win, especially in our first week of teaching. Not only was she walking over a suspension bridge and paddling on the pond, she was making a concerted effort to make her voice heard. I realized I had been trying on a new form of bravery in teaching the School Overnight Program as well, and as M described her victory, a piece of me also swelled with pride in myself and my fellow graduate students. I went into my next week of teaching feeling confident and channeling my inner M—brave in the face of any new challenge.
Caroline Bargo is a graduate student in IslandWood's Education for Environment and Community program. Interested in learning more about the program? Click here.