Kennedy High School: Turning stragglers into leaders

Kennedy High School: Turning stragglers into leaders


Exploring Place-based Education Programs in the Pacific Northwest

by Becs Boyd

A visit to Kennedy High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon on 18 November, turns out to be one of the most uplifting days I have spent in a school, perhaps ever.

Formally known as AL Kennedy Alternative High School, the school was founded in 1998 by a forestry teacher who wanted to help students aged 15 to 18 who were struggling in mainstream education. By 2008, when current principal Tom Horn took over, the school was sinking under an attendance rate sometimes as low as 23%, serious drug problems and alarming drop out rates. Now, little more than two years on, Tom’s vision, and the perceptive and caring approach to the students which shines through the principal and his team of committed and talented staff, have completely transformed the culture of the school. Attendance rates are around 90% and the drop out rate has fallen dramatically, while test results show an upward trend. The school serves a maximum of 75 students, but there are 190 further students waiting for a place. (more…)

Preparing Teachers to Teach About Sustainability

Recently Gregory Smith, Professor in the Lewis and Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling, received a $19,380 grant from the Gray Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation to train teachers in the West Linn (OR) School District on environmental issues. The Environmental Education Program seeks to encourage a strong local land ethic, sustainable communities, and stewardship of the natural environment by citizens throughout Oregon. The Fund is committed long term to institutionalizing a series of age-appropriate experiences that build a sense of place and responsibility towards Oregon and the region.

The Sustainability Education Initiative is a program of professional development coursework and activities for K-12 teachers in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. During three courses offered in 2009, Smith prepared 50-60 teachers to incorporate sustainability issues into their classrooms and help them implement school or community projects that will enhance local natural and social environments. Participants will be eligible for small seed grants to fund start-up projects. The grant aims to increase the number of teachers implementing sustainability projects in schools, and increase student and educator awareness of local natural systems, ecologies, and social needs.

Top Ten List for Developing Environmental Literacy

Top Ten List for Developing Environmental Literacy


from Callister, Jamogochian, Lemos, Weddle, & Yoder (2010) – Community-based Education: Model Programs. Northwest Center for Sustainable Resources.

This top-ten list of advice from Jon Yoder may be of assistance for teachers just beginning to integrate environmental literacy into their classroom:

  1. Start small and find other teachers interested in doing a community project. Support and collaboration are critical for success as you begin this work.
  2. Don’t let issues such as transportation and funding stand in your way. Be creative and persistent and employ the resources of your community.
  3. Getting to know community partners is a must, so be prepared to make calls and meet with potential partners. They are often more than willing to work with you and may have resources you can use.
  4. Make sure that your class does not become a work crew. The work you do should be the work of your partner. This is not a field trip or guest presentation, but joining the authentic work of your partner.
  5. Be organized and plan ahead. You can never foresee all possibilities, but being organized helps you become more successful with students and partners.
  6. Promote the program. It is not about you but about the students and their capacity to serve as a resource for their community
  7. Involve students in the selection of their work and in designing their products. This may be the first time they have some control over their learning. It can be empowering for them.
  8. As your work expands, think of ways that the program can sustain itself when you are no longer there.
  9. Do not worry about having to know the content or being in charge of direct instruction. You will become a facilitator and instruction comes from the community partner and the curriculum resources you organize. One of the great joys of this approach is that you often get to learn along with your students. Sometimes they can even teach you. The teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage,” but instead is the “guide on the side.”
  10. Remember it is about community! The work students do needs to have a context to it. They should come out of their study with a clear understanding of what their community is, how it can function, and possible roles for them to participate. Do not forget that this approach also fosters community building within the classroom and students become reconnected to themselves and to each other.
An unapologetic advocate…

An unapologetic advocate…

by Rob Sandelin

robsandelinMy primary goal as an educator at the Environmental Science School is to create connections between students and nature. I do this because I believe once students have a deep connection to nature, they become advocates, often for the rest of their life. We have lots of time and experiences with nature as part of our program.

An example. We spent several trips a few years ago along a certain creek watching, counting and learning about salmon. We watched a female dig a redd (her nest) and the whole cycle. Every time we went back the kids looked for red girl, as they had named her. During one rainy day the kids noticed a pipe dumping gunky water into OUR stream onto OUR fish. They were outraged. We followed the pipe back and discovered it was a street drain, full of crud and oil from cars off the road. I did not tell them how to feel or act, they did that on their own, based on their connection to that place. After school they  ALL met and cleaned up that whole street, then, unknown to me, a bunch of them went to an evening political debate between a couple of candidates for mayor. They stood up in a room full of adults, and demanded to know what the candidates were going to do about the street drains in our town which dump oil and gunk onto OUR salmon stream. They were articulate, bright and passionate advocates.

As far as I am concerned, this is why I teach.

Rob Sandelin is a naturalist and environmental educator who has since childhood spent much of his life observing and studying nature in the mountains of the Northwest. He has served as a park naturalist at Yosemite National Park, Olympic National Park, and Denali National Park. Currently he teaches field skills to student naturalists at the Environmental Education School of the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Washington. He is the author of This Week in the Woods, a series of natural history essays; the Cohousing Resource Guide; and the Intentional Communities Resource Pages website. He lives with family and friends in the Sharingwood Cohousing Community in Snohomish County.

Perspectives: A reflection on teaching environmental education

Perspectives: A reflection on teaching environmental education

by Julie Corotis

Children were taken hostage in Russia, thousands died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bombs were detonated in Palestine and Israel. All of these events have occurred while I have been an environmental educator at IslandWood. How these events define my role as an environmental educator may seem obscure at first, but they are actually paramount to my decision to devote my life to this career.

I began to question the value of environmental or outdoor education last September when I read reports of the hostage crisis in Russia. Children were sacrificed for political gain while I was preparing to teach children about ecosystems.  My career choice and what was needed in the world did not seem to be congruent. I could not see how what I was doing was alleviating suffering and dissipating hate. I wondered why it is important to teach children the abiotic parts of an ecosystem when there is a current of hate running through our society. Through this ongoing monologue I realized what role I want to play in environmental education. I want to help children build relationships and a sense of community in hopes that they will leave their experience with me a bit more likely to make positive choices.

I do not believe that children should grow up thinking that the environment is the world’s greatest problem, and it is their duty to save it, which some refer to as the ‘gloom and doom’ approach. Personally, I think that social problems have greater potential to exterminate humans long before we have a chance to kill the planet. The point of this polemic is that I believe children should be taught the value of treating everything with respect, which includes the natural world.

My role as an environmental educator is to teach about the environment, both natural and human-made, and to help others see and value the relationships in and between both. At IslandWood I spend a significant part of 4-day School Overnight Program discussing communities, those in a watershed or ecosystem, our group’s and their home community. Mornings begin with a focus question, which I have altered so that they are broader and can have answers that apply to the students’ own life. For example, “What is an ecosystem?” becomes “What is a community?,” so that human and natural communities can be discussed. The final question of the week “What can I do to make the world a better place?” can have myriad answers that connect their experiences at IslandWood and their lives back home.

I think that the experience of being outdoors in a small community can change people’s lives in extraordinary ways. The setting removes familiar pressures and attitudes, the people often feel freer to be themselves, and the experience is interesting. The combination of environmental education in the outdoors has had a great role in bringing me to this point in my life. I have lived, worked and studied in small communities in nature and believe that I am a better person because of it. I have facilitated these experiences for others and am consistently amazed by its impact. Patience, tolerance, respect and gratitude are virtues that can grow from environmental education, and I believe that these virtues are what is needed to save the world.

Julie Corotis is a graduate student of the IslandWood School on Bainbridge Island, Washington.