A New Perspective on the School Overnight Program

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Tom Stonehocker

In the middle two weeks of November, I found myself taking on a role that was entirely new to me—school liaison. Finally feeling comfortable in my role of working with about ten students at a time, I now got to reach out to the whole 5th grade class of a school in Kitsap County. My classmate Greta and I became the go-to contacts to help facilitate our partner school’s visit.

It was a very blustery fall day as Greta and I stepped into our partner school with an armload of paper bags and blank “Dear IslandWood” letters to be filled out by the students. This was where my perspective began to change. From that moment on, we were the primary guides for all sixty of these students. How we performed that day would shape their impression of their IslandWood visit the following week.

We were quickly welcomed into their classrooms, as we shared stories about IslandWood and led a “Leaf in a Bag” lesson. In this activity, students use their sense of touch to describe and draw a mystery leaf from a native plant inside a brown paper bag. The idea is for students to experience using senses other than sight to make observations in a new situation. Noticing the excitement from the students and watching them dive into deeper questioning during this activity, I could tell that they were going to have a great week at IslandWood.

The following Monday, the students and teachers arrived at IslandWood. It was a unique week for a couple of reasons. First, it was Thanksgiving week, which meant the school would be here three days instead of four. Also, we had all twenty-three of us grads for just seven field groups. Because of the abundance of instructors, it was decided that Greta and I would be “super liaisons” and not be assigned to a field group. This meant we could focus on the large-scale functions of SOP, tackling things like leading Friendship Circle gatherings, teaching morning lessons, and leading evening programs, all of which take place when field groups convene as one large group. We also became primary support for teachers from the school, as well as our own IslandWood instructors.School Overnight Program students gather in the Great Hall at IslandWood.

In some ways this week felt like I was doing “Leaf in a Bag.” I had no prior experience working on this scale, and it became a chance to make many small and careful observations and combine them to understand and piece together an unknown whole. I am a person who feels most comfortable working one-on-one or in small groups. Large groups of people have often intimidated me. I thought back about what I have seen other grads and staff do in this role. I recall that people treated these large-group moments with the same care and consideration they would use if they were talking to a good friend. Remembering this, I felt a confidence I never had before. For the first time, I felt I could add my voice to the bigger discussion during our week together.

In the end, the week felt very successful. Greta and I were able to focus and be intentional about our Friendship Circle lessons, synthesizing what would normally take two mornings into one. We also got to travel among field groups and help with a mixture of logistics, teaching, and other support. We came to the rescue more than once when students were soaking wet from rain and in need of new gear. The most valuable part of this week, however, was being able to watch my peers teach in the field. I took away a better sense of how our different teaching styles make us stronger as a whole. I witnessed many new ways of teaching familiar lessons and saw tremendous care and love in all the field groups.

As the students loaded back onto their bus at the end of the week, the teachers asked Greta and me when we’d be able to come back to their school to teach again. Hearing this made us both smile, and we knew that we had done well this week. Personally, I attribute the success to being able to step back and see from a new perspective. It’s a gift that I hope we all continue to experience here at IslandWood.