JEDI in our School Overnight Program


The School Overnight Program, which was the basis of IslandWood’s founding in 1999, was created to increase access to meaningful nature-based learning experiences for the region’s children. Accessibility has been one of the core tenants of IslandWood ever since. To ensure financial barriers don’t prevent children from participating, we fundraise to make the program a cost-effective option for all schools. In addition, we also fundraise to provide scholarships for schools who need further financial support, typically providing scholarships to 50% of the schools that come to our Bainbridge Island campus each year.


Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices influence every aspect of our educational philosophy. CRT refers to an educational approach that honors students’ individual learning styles, identities, and life experiences as a way to deepen learning and spark engagement. We believe that honoring multiple ways of knowing and using a child’s existing knowledge and sense of culture is a powerful framework for making sense of and integrating new learning. It is part of our process to learn about and incorporate students’ home culture in the design of their learning experience. One way we do this is by pre-trip visits to schools by our staff or pre-trip questionnaires to gather insights about school, local neighborhood, and classroom culture. Other ways we incorporate CRT practices into our teaching can be found here.


Launched in 2017, Engaging Across Boundaries (EAB) is an initiative created within the SOP program as a result of our increased prioritization of JEDI. We leverage the unique opportunity we have to bring schools from different cultural, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds together for several shared experiences (meals, group games, etc) during their four days at IslandWood. As students participate in EAB, they engage with students they may not otherwise have the opportunity to connect with and further develop their communication, perspective-taking, and collaborative problem-solving skills. EAB allows students to learn from each other in ways that go beyond the classroom and creates learning that comes from both directions, opening the door for a better understanding of each student’s reality.


The School Overnight Program seeks to intentionally incorporate multiple cultures in the narrative of the program. Some of the ways this can be seen include:

  • Increased training for SOP instructors around facilitating cultural encounters vs. cultural appropriation. We work to create intentionally designed experiences that might include a cultural artifact, song, or story, and explain the significance and history of the artifact, song, or story.
  • A student-centered approach to education that values students own prior knowledge and identity, including their culture, to contextualize their IslandWood learning within, and alongside, their own lived experiences outside of IslandWood. An example of a student-centered practice is creating community agreements or student-led investigations of natural phenomena that are culturally relevant and intriguing to them.
  • The Welcome Sign at our Garden Classroom says “welcome” in the fifteen most spoken languages of the children who visit IslandWood. The garden also includes culturally significant plants from different parts of the world.
  • Land & water acknowledgements that are acknowledged and discussed with students.
  • The evening part of the SOP program emphasizes the cultural elements of the Great Hall and the shared cultural experience of gathering around a fire.


We work to identify and address barriers that keep children from attending the School Overnight Program. Some examples of this in action include:

  • Clear communication about scholarship eligibility.
  • Our Gear Library lends children and chaperones clothing and accessories needed to keep them warm and dry during their stay at IslandWood, including raincoats, rain pants, hats, boots, gloves, and more.
  • All indoor spaces and many of our outdoor spaces and field structures – the Learning Treehouse, Garden, Friendship Circle, some Team’s Course elements, and the Floating Classroom – were built and are continually maintained to meet ADA code and help provide physical accessibility to our campus for children.
  • Hosting Community Engagement Forums, where we learn from the communities we seek to serve. In these forums we bring together staff, teachers, parents, former students, and community leaders to ask and answer questions such as, how can IslandWood’s curriculum be made more culturally responsive? How can the program be made more accessible?
  • Sharing all menus and recipes for meals with schools for children with allergies, food sensitivities, or food choices based on religious or spiritual beliefs. We provide gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options. We also provide carbohydrate counts to assist parents of students in managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
  • Providing information about the program in Spanish
  • Providing our field journals, which every child receives and uses for their work at IslandWood, in Spanish.
Taylor O'Connor with students in the School Overnight Program.


We work hard to provide adaptive, flexible, and differentiated instruction based on our awareness of student needs and various modes of learning.

  • Past feedback from teachers and chaperones made us aware that our instructors were not well prepared to address the needs of students experiencing homelessness, trauma, ADHD, and autism. As a result, we now include these topics in our Child & Adolescent Development course during the Winter quarter of the graduate program.
  • We also heard feedback that while for many, the family-style eating in our dining hall is a favorite part of the experience, for some students the physical space can be overwhelming due to the high volume. We now offer noise-canceling headphones for use by students and also make teachers and chaperones aware that there is an alternative space for dining, just off our main dining hall, where students can see the other tables, and hear what is happening, but where the volume level is significantly lower.


‘Leaning into discomfort’ is a strong focus of the School Overnight Program. The intentional use of this language was influenced by JEDI work and is intricately woven into our daily support of a culture of growth mindset with students. While there are endless ways we encourage students to lean into discomfort during SOP (there are often a lot of “firsts” that happen for students during their time!), two examples of this include modeling critical thinking and reasoning that challenges student bias through evidence-based problem solving and engaging in “courageous conversations” with students on the topics of cultural, racial, and gender identities.

An IslandWood graduate student, in the Graduate Program in Environmental Education & Equity,s sits in a circle with students in the School Overnight Program. Behind them is the suspension bridge


In the past, IslandWood over-represented children of color, perpetuated stereotypes, and expressed white saviorism in our communications about the School Overnight Program. Over the past few years, we have made a highly concerted effort to correct this harmful tokenization of children of color and white savior language with communications that accurately reflect the demographics and goals of the program.


In addition to organization-wide JEDI trainings and external workshops, members of the team have been participating in internal racial equity meetings aimed at growing their capacities as anti-racist educators. During the school year, our education team comes together for Building Antiracist White Educators sessions alternating weeks with a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) affinity group and a white caucus group.