Author: Tamar Kupiec
Lorrie Wolle has taught elementary school for 23 years, and she’s been coming to the School Overnight Program (SOP) with Armin Jahr Elementary in Bremerton for about half as many. She’s a skilled teacher who never stops learning, the kind who commits to a five-year program in science instruction with the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership. But what fuels her love for the job more than anything is seeing her students succeed.
She has seen her fifth-graders—who come to her “in all shapes and sizes and all levels of learning”—succeed at IslandWood. When these children are away from school, free from the expectations of the curriculum and the assumptions of their peers about their behavior in class, they thrive.
The rules are different at IslandWood. Without the pressure to produce a formal piece of academic work and without the deadlines of a typical school day, Lorrie’s students “learn from listening, watching, and doing.” And what a lot there is to listen to, watch, and do. Her students love learning and creating rhythms on the djembe drums; they are enchanted by the owls overhead and deer in the meadow; and they hike with energy and excitement down to Mac’s Pond, where they collect macroinvertebrates to examine under the microscope.
Lorrie believes that children who have trouble sitting still and staying on task in the classroom and those with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are especially receptive to these new routines. Armin Jahr is committed to bringing all students to IslandWood and has adapted their program so that children who are unable to stay overnight can still participate during the day. Lorrie has observed that in this new and ever-changing environment, they feel less conspicuous and more at ease, enabling them to explore in their own way. “Hey, I can be successful here too,” they might say.
Success looks different at IslandWood, and it certainly isn’t measured the same way. “I think [the sense of accomplishment] comes from within,” says Lorrie, “I think it’s more of an intrinsic learning. They realize themselves that they’re learning, and there is no formal assessment. It’s kind of their own personal assessment of ‘I’ve learned this and this and this,’ and they go home and tell their parents about all their experiences.”
Lorrie also responds well to this change. She feels both immense satisfaction—and relief—when she delivers her students into the trusted hands of the SOP graduate student instructors. “Man, I didn’t have to think about anything but keeping my kids in tow,” she recalls with a soft chuckle. She admires the staff’s use of positive discipline. Rather than telling a child to quiet down or get to work, she notes, an instructor might say thank you for waiting your turn to talk or thank you for participating.
IslandWood has become an Armin Jahr tradition. But like any deeply held tradition, it depends on the faith and commitment of its followers: the teachers, families, students, the Bremerton community—and IslandWood.
“We are a high poverty school. We have a lot of [students on] free and reduced lunch,” Lorrie says. “I’ve been really thankful to IslandWood for its subsidy to make it possible for these kids to go.”
IslandWood’s commitment to equitable access and its generous donor community put SOP within reach for Armin Jahr, but ultimately, the school makes it happen. Teachers fundraise; the PTA allocates a portion of its budget; and the school district and businesses, such as Puget Sound Energy, provide financial support. Even Armin Jahr alumni do their part. Rather than calling on parents to take time off work, the school recruits and trains AP high school students to act as chaperons. Some of Lorrie’s former students have accompanied her to IslandWood as chaperons, so she gets to see them succeed in a new role. For a teacher like Lorrie, that means a lot.
Read about Kari Adamsky, an SOP and Armin Jahr Alum, who returned to IslandWood in 2017 as a chaperon.