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Spanish and Service Learning in Valley County

After six weeks in Chile and spring breaks spent across the USA, Alzar School students have finally returned to campus and hit the ground running. Between busy class days, outdoor activity, PE, and even some spring skiing, the schedule has been jam-packed. But students haven’t forgotten their time in Chile, or the language skills they learned while abroad. Last week, students had the opportunity to share their experiences, as well as their language skills, with local elementary students in Valley County.

Students began planning their lessons in Spanish class. Each class prepared not only a short presentation on Chile, but also fun and engaging 15-minute lessons based on concepts recently studied in their Spanish classes. Spanish teachers Auriona East and Colin Hull encouraged their students to think outside the box, and students worked in small groups to develop lessons and materials for their classes. They prepared slideshows, poster-boards, cut-out figures, and fun games to help their soon-to-be students engage with the new content.

Ceilidh teaching Cascade fifth and sixth graders new Spanish phrases.

On Tuesday, students travelled to Donnelley Elementary School, where they taught in first, third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. On Thursday, I joined students at Cascade Elementary School, where they taught fifth and sixth grade classrooms; following our time at the school, we headed to the Cascade Cultural Arts Center, where students taught a small group of homeschooled children of various ages.

The lessons at Cascade Elementary started with a brief slideshow in which Alzar School students presented on their experience in Chile. The students had the opportunity to share not only about the various different landscapes and environments that we travelled through, but also to discuss differences in Chilean cultural and lifestyle. The Spanish C class enthusiastically shared about the different foods that they ate in Chile, from empanadas to the famous lomo a lo pobre, a steak dish served with caramelized onions, French fries, and a fried egg. The Cascade students gobbled down the information as readily as they might have gobbled down one of the dishes displayed on their Smartboard; as the Alzar School students moved through their lesson, they reviewed new vocab. “What’s the word for soup? Or bread?” they asked the class. The local students perched on their knees, shouting sopa, pan, stretching their arms up into the air to be called on.

After the short presentations on Chile, the fifth and sixth graders split into four groups, rotating through stations planned by Alzar School students. One group of students taught a wonderful geography lesson, in which Cascade students competed against one another in a “trashketball” competition based on identifying new vocab. Another group had a vibrantly colored poster-board with illustrations of valleys, mountains, rivers, and more, which transitioned into a Pictionary game on the board. Students shouted the new vocab enthusiastically. “El rio, el sol, la montaña!” echoed through the locker-lined hallways.

Davis giving high-fives to his students as they master new Spanish vocabulary.

Another group practiced weather vocabulary with an animated game of charades, directed by the Spanish B students. A slight, blonde boy stood at the front of a table of his peers, violently shaking and chattering his teeth; “Hace frio!” his friends cried out, competing to be first to remember the new words. On the floor nearby, Spanish D students split their small group into clusters of two and three, and each group was tasked with arranging a cut-out house, tree, and person based on a Spanish phrase. “El hombre es lejos de la casa,” Ceilidh said, and an active brunette with a tie-dye sweatshirt on quickly grabbed the stick-figure man and placed him an arm’s length away from the house. Each student, whether from the Alzar School or from Cascade Elementary School, was active, engaged, and excited.

Reflecting on the experience over the course of the next few days, our students noted that teaching was incredibly fun, as well as exhausting. They returned to campus with a newfound appreciation for their Alzar School teachers, and the work each of us puts in to planning an engaging classroom discussion or activity.

But more importantly, they reflected on how exciting it had been to share their knowledge and experience with local students. They had offered the Cascade and Donnelly students a glimpse into Chilean culture, as well as an inspiration to continue to study language – and perhaps, one day, to use that language to connect with a new place, to make a new friend, and to expand their understanding of the world.

Chilean Flavor – Making Pebre in Choshuenco

While in Choshuenco, we eat at a wonderful local restaurant called El Rucapillán. Though the meals are filling and flavorful, my favorite part of dinner in Choshuenco is always the pebre. Pebre is a traditional Chilean salsa, often spicy and always delicious. Each night in Choshuenco, we find a different pebre on the table. Sometimes it’s mild and bright red; other nights, garlic-filled and salmon-colored, others still, spicy and pale pink. It complements every meal wonderfully, from simple bread and butter to sausage and bean stew. Since we first arrived in Choshuenco, I’ve been determined to learn how to make it. A stilted but successful conversation with the owners of the restaurant settled the plan for Sunday evening, just before dinner.

After a sun-filled afternoon on the beach of Lago Panguipulli, Emily and Allison decided to join me on my culinary adventure. We eagerly made our way to the restaurant, where Veronica ushered us into the kitchen. She was delighted to have three new American pupils, and immediately washed and organized the ingredients: seven or eight plump tomatoes, a handful of yellow ají peppers, a couple small green hot peppers, and two bell peppers. As Veronica sliced up the vegetables, she chatted with Emily, Allison, and I about our hometowns. We discovered that Veronica has a childhood friend who lives in Emily’s home state of New Jersey, and that TV shows have led Veronica to some strange assumptions about Allison’s home state of Texas. As we learned about each others’ hometowns, Veronica tossed the ingredients into a blender with half a cup of water, and pulsed the veggies into the rose-hued salsa that we all adore. She poured the fresh salsa into a large glass jar, and as our conversation drew to a close, we thought our simple lesson might be over.

But we still needed to add salt and the critically important ingredient, cilantro. Veronica hurried off, and I assumed she would return with a handful of cilantro from the fridge. Instead, she beckoned for us to follow her. Out of the kitchen and through the laundry room, we followed her into an alcove behind the restaurant, where we found ourselves surrounded by raised beds. She bent down and plucked a few leaves off of a plant, brought them to her nose, then ours – fresh oregano!

We proceeded to follow her on a tour of the garden. Inside a small greenhouse, cucumbers and tomatoes climbed towards the ceiling and basil grew steadily; beside the greenhouse, squash and zucchini plants flowered. Veronica pointed out the herbs in the raised beds lining the restaurant wall: cilantro, oregano, a local variety of rosemary, and many more. She picked a handful of cilantro and a pinch of rosemary. We munched on a freshly plucked cucumber as she told us that the restaurant uses herbs and vegetables from their garden as much as possible – especially when they make fresh pebre.

Back in the kitchen, Veronica briskly chopped up the herbs and added them to jar. After a heaping spoonful of salt, the pebre was complete. We each tasted a small spoonful, oohing and aahing over the perfect freshness and spiciness. Veronica was delighted, and we left the restaurant a small bowl of pebre all for ourselves – as well as a great new friend!

At dinner, with bowls of our freshly prepared pebre on the table, Emily and Allison chatted with their friends about the recipe, making plans to prepare it at home for their families. “We should make it in the cabanas!” said one of their housemates. Everyone was excited to practice the new recipe, in Chile and back at home. It was a fabulous end to our weekend of paddling and roll practice, a wonderful moment of cross-cultural learning to conclude our final weekend in the Lakes District.

Written by: Angelica Calabrese

Re-“Reed”ing Environmental Science

Alzar School is in full swing now! This is the end of our first full week of academics. The students have attended every class four times this week and invested hours in learning engaging and -modestly speaking- mind blowing information. I could spend blogs on blogs talking about that mind blowing content in each class, but I wanted to spend today just discussing one: Environmental Science with Reed.

This Environmental Science unit flows nicely into our English and Spanish curriculum, as well. We're all talking about a sense of self and a sense of place. Who are we? And how does our home affect our understanding of ourselves? In Reed's class, the question is: "What do we know about our new home?" The reality is that most of them know very little, and for that reason, Reed has decided to re-imagine our Environmental curriculum to be much more place-based. The focus is not on deep water currents in the Atlantic or tornados in Kansas. The focus is central Idaho. It's Valley County. It's Alzar School.

So, in Reed's lab last week, he asked the kids to steep in "4 meditations" in the woods on campus. He says that we are often stuck in one lens of perception. That, as writers we describe. As artists we paint and draw, and as scientists we define. Every one of these forms of "meditations" is valuable; however, taking the time to investigate and experience a place through multiple lenses will help one to create a much deeper sense of place. His 4 meditations were:

  • Naturalist's: The student spends time attempting to accurately and scientifically analyze and describe one tree. So, measuring the trunk's diameter or shape of its leaves.
  • Ecologist's: He or she attempts to acknowledge all the connections that tree has with all other biotic and abiotic aspects of its environment, i.e. the wind, fungus, shrubs, birds, sunlight.
  • Artist's: Each person draws their tree as they see it and as it makes them feel.
  • Spiritualist's: The individual gives thanks to that tree for its existence.

Between each meditation, the students came together with Reed to discuss how their perspectives changed as they changed their focuses, how they felt differently, and which ones felt the most natural to them. Ultimately, the students came away with the lessons Reed had been hoping for: a focused meditation on nature and one's environment invites deep compassion - an interest in and a love for that which sustains us.

Building on the past week's lessons, yesterday Reed and his class took a tour around campus to identify some of the plant-life we enjoy here. They identified five trees, six shrubs, and a few forbs. They discussed its medicinal uses, investigated its smells, and tasted its sap or bark or leaves. They shared stories. Reed told them wild things they'd never known. He explained that this same species of conifer found on our campus - the Ponderosa pine - was once used in nuclear testing to determine the adverse affects nuclear bombs would have on forests... I think we all can imagine the outcome. He explained that when sagebrush is damaged, it releases a chemical that warns nearby sagebrush plants that danger may be coming so they can start channeling toxins into their leaves. For that reason, ungulates (antelopes and deer) tend to eat while moving upwind so that they can eat 'unsuspecting' sagebrush with lower toxicity in its leaves.

Today the students had a quiz on all these plants that are native to our property - Reed says they nailed it.

I asked Reed where he is going with the rest of the unit, and it's apparent he has big and equally impacting dreams. He wants to build towards a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the forest and grass ecology in this area. Ultimately, they will choose and plant a native and edible forb on our property. This will help to diversify the already beautifully rich land we live on, as well as provide food for future Alzar students, and through it all they will continue to develop their own sense of place while simultaneously creating it. How amazing is it to think of our students taking this curiosity and passion back to their families and their homes?

The Rio Baker: a Chilean Expedition

Kayaking 150 kilometers is not an easy feat, and also not part of the everyday life of the average high school student. This unique lifestyle is very common in the day to day life of an Alzar School student. Through completing this challenging goal, the students fulfilled the six Foundations of the Alzar School; these elements include academics, outdoor adventure, environmental stewardship, cultural exchange, leadership training, and service learning.

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The students on this expedition woke up early each morning in order to pack all their personal gear, complete their daily chores, and get the group prepared for embarking on the river each morning. Through this outdoor adventure of paddling on the river, these students fostered a relationship with the environment and learned how to leave as little trace as possible moving from one campsite to the next.

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At the end of a long day of paddling through the beautiful wilderness of the Baker River, students would have an hour or so to complete schoolwork on their iPads. Each night a subject is assigned in which all the students complete work in that particular subject.

Two students from Los Escualos, a local kayaking club here in Cochrane, joined us for the entire expedition. They joined us for meals, leadership debriefs, and participated in other group activities on and off the river. Our Alzar School students were forced to go out of their comfort zones in order to communicate with the se students on a daily basis, and strengthened their Spanish skills socially and dynamically.

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Leaders of the day (LODs) are assigned every two days and are in charge of facilitating the group and guiding them through different tasks, such as chores, meals, and explaining the overall schedule and goals for the next few days. Each evening, the group comes together to debrief the progress of the LODs that specific day, focusing on specific instances that show either a positive aspect of the 10 Elements of Leadership, or a delta, which is something that can be changed or worked on in the future.

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It is essential for students to complete their chores in a timely manner in order for them to be set up for success during the day. This service learning is integral to the big picture of the expedition and the success of each day.

This expedition is just a glimpse into the daily life of an Alzar School Student and the uniqueness of this semester school. We are about to embark on another expedition before we spend time in the cities strictly taking classes, participating in cultural activities, and strengthening hard skills in white water kayaking. When we need a classroom, the world awaits.

They did it for the land. They did it for themselves.

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This semester's Chilean students, Jose and Niels, packing out trash found during the Bullileo backpacking expedition.

Leave No Trace (LNT) is a term that one would hear used often around the Alzar School campus in Cascade, Idaho, USA. In reality, though, it is used in nearly every outdoor, leadership curriculum in the United States. If a program spends time outside, their community inevitably addresses LNT. So, in true outdoor-educator fashion, let me outline for you the seven Leave No Trace principles:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impact
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Users

The idea behind these principes is that, if everyone adheres to them, we can protect nature from being unnecessarily affected by our presence. Obviously, a giant group of teenagers (or anybody, for that matter) is going to have a lasting effect on the nature they trapse around in. Our hope is that the more conscious our students are about the effect they have, the better they will be able to minimize it.

As facilitators, we attempt to introduce and discuss this outdoor ethic in every applicable instance. As individuals who love nature, and as a program that depends on nature to deliver the leadership curriculum we value, and as a humankind that depends on nature for its wellbeing and survival, Leaving No Trace is of parmount importance.

What's incredible for us, is when the students realize that, too.

On our first Chilean expedition of the semester, one student-group went backpacking in the extreme, lush, breath-taking Andes and the other paddling on some sections of a chilly, epic, face-melting river. The backpacking trip found itself in this narrow valley surrounded by awe-inspiring cliffs, snow, waterfalls, vistas, lakes, and... a surprising amount of trash. After a short conversation about the LNT principles we all know quite well, we decided to indulge in some healthy competition to see who could collect and hike out the most garbage.

Every single student participated to some degree, but what was cool for everyone to see, was how dedicated our Chilean students were to cleaning up this land they'd never seen before, but felt pride and sadness toward. They found giant plastic tarps, scrap metal, candy wrappers, glass bottles, knives, instant mac'n'cheese containers, and the list goes on. They found so much trash that they built a litter for it and eventually needed help carrying it all out.

The prize for carrying out the most trash was an icecream bar - no insignificant food for hiking teenagers. But, when we arrived at a gas station the day our expedition ended, Jose and Niels declined their prize and treat. They said they did it for the land. They did it for themselves.