Author: Tamar Kupiec
“Wow!” Kari remembers thinking as she entered the Great Hall at IslandWood as part of the School Overnight Program. “We were so small, and it was so big. I don’t think I’d ever been in a space that big.” No doubt she was reacting to the room’s cathedral ceiling with its exposed wooden beams and columns.
Today, Kari Adamski is a senior at Bremerton High School. She comes from a family of builders, and one day she will be a builder too. But Kari will be a special kind of builder. As someone who is passionate about the natural world, she plans to be an environmental architect. She says she wants to design sustainable buildings like the ones at IslandWood, which use water, energy and materials efficiently and impact the environment as little as possible.
Next year, Kari will attend Washington State University in Pullman. WSU doesn’t offer a program in exactly what she’s looking for, but true to her nature, Kari will build one. She will major in architecture and minor in environmental studies. She feels confident about her job prospects and hopes to work for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).
“When I think IslandWood, I think of the suspension bridge,” Kari says. It wasn’t the system of cables and metal beams that impressed the young Kari, who had not yet identified her dream of being an architect. It was the height. The bridge stretches 190 feet across a deep ravine. For someone like Kari, who admits to being a little afraid of heights, crossing it can be scary. But, she says, “I embraced adventure” and made it to the other side.
She’s come back to the bridge and to IslandWood, this time as a chaperon with her old elementary school Armin Jahr. Kari took the one environmental studies class at her high school, which is where she heard about the chance to chaperon. “I learned so much about the environment [in this class], and how much I love it, and grew more of an appreciation than when I was in grade school. So I wanted to come back and embrace nature and teach kids.”
Kari also thanks her parents for nurturing her curiosity and concern for the environment. Together they would walk in the woods. Kari remembers exclaiming, “What’s that? What’s that?” and hearing her parents answer, “A Douglas fir, deer tracks, deer scat…” “And then we’d come home and we’d recycle,” she laughs. They showed her the forest, answered her questions, and taught her to recycle, because they loved these things and cared about the planet. They did not know that it would lead to a satisfying career for their daughter.
Kari is fortunate to have found a profession that excites her mind and heart. She has observed that many people close to her do not love their jobs. In fact, she wants to design houses—not offices—because she wants her designs to be places of refuge rather than labor, places where one can return after a hard day’s work.
IslandWood calls itself the “school is the woods,” but Kari is quick to clarify, “It doesn’t feel like a school, but it is.” For her the difference is the hands-on experience at IslandWood. You’re not just sitting in class, Kari explains. You’re doing things, whether it’s facing your fear of heights or scooping macroinvertebrates from the pond to study in the lab. The value in what a child sees and touches during their time at IslandWood may not become clear for many years. For Kari, a future environmental architect, it’s no surprise that the Great Hall and the suspension bridge would impress her. But there’s so much more to discover in IslandWood’s 250 acres of forest: the ponds squirming with microscopic life; the 125-foot-tall canopy tower with views of Mt. Rainier on a clear day; the salamander crossing your path and the owl overhead; the test tubes, microscopes, and other tools of the scientist’s trade… Every child will make something different from these parts. What will yours make?