Students Craft Public Narratives to Address Real and Imaginary Issues

Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote speech launched the then-Senatorial candidate from tall kid with a funny name to the most powerful person in the world. In 18 and a half minutes, Obama told of his working class roots in Kansas, Kenya and Hawaii; how US American values, manifest in programs like Federal Housing Assistance and the GI Bill, allowed Barack himself to climb to the very precipice of power. He spoke of countless Americans, steel workers and immigrants from Florida to Oregon, striving to fulfill the very same ideals: meritocracy, dignity, and a universal belief in the American Dream.

The format of the speech was nothing new. Marshall Ganz developed the Public Narrative model of community organizing over the course of the 1970’s and 1980’s while working in California. He found that a leader speaking from their own experience and appealing to the shared values of their audience motivated communities much more than a simple action plan. Put simply, Barack Obama told stories: a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. Ganz went on to advise Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, but his Public Narrative model is perhaps even more pervasive.

In leadership class this unit, we spent time analyzing speeches that utilized the Public Narrative model. As a culminating experience, students crafted speeches that addressed an issue on campus, real or imaginary. Students urged their peers to act on such diverse issues as inclusivity at the Alzar School, faults in our Community Tasks program, bringing mindfulness to campus, and the impending alien invasion of Cascade.

On issues serious and silly, practicable and practically nonsense, students spoke to the shared values that we have developed as a community, and urged their peers to act on those values. It’s a skill that requires a deep understanding of why we come together for a whirlwind 4 months, and that students will use throughout their lives as they push their communities to effect positive change.

An Alzar Eclipse

As instructors, we go to great lengths to bring experiential learning opportunities to our students. Sometimes, though, those opportunities drop right at your doorstep. Last week, we were lucky to find ourselves in the path of totality of the Great American Eclipse--the first total solar eclipse in the continental US in almost 40 years. Members of the University of Arizona Astronomy Department gave us the scientific perspective at a lecture in town the day before, and joined us at the Barn on campus with solar binocular and retrofitted telescopes to take in the event.

The moon began to make its appearance an hour before totality, as students hurried about to show off shadow bands through pin-pricked pieces of paper. Students observed that “the weather is shifting, the colors are changing, and the mountains are looking more saturated.” Totality hit at 11:26: “a moment of awe;” and “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” We are grateful to the University of Arizona for giving us a deep understanding of this special event, and even more thankful to the moon for gracing us with its presence. We should start with an eclipse every semester!

Discovering Our Backyard – Orientation Expeditions

This week students left their comfy beds, technology, and ready access to snacks behind as they set out to explore and discover their surroundings during our orientation expeditions.  The groups will summit the mountains that are the backdrop to our campus, and paddle the river that is our school's western border.  More importantly, they will get to know their peers and teachers, laying the foundation for the community that will form the Fall 2017 semester.  
After all the commotion of the first few days of the semester, it is wonderful for things to slow down a bit and have the group follow the rhythm of the natural world.  From sunrise to sunset, this expedition allows for the powerful moments to arise from laughing with your math teacher on the trail and giggling with your tent mates under a star filled sky.  Students will certainly work on "hard skills" this trip as they begin to navigate whitewater kayaks, and organize their own packs, but the Alzar School has larger goals for the expedition.  Here are three goals from the expedition plans our teachers wrote:
  • Students begin to forge relationships with peers and staff.
  • Students begin to build a sense of place (specifically our “backyard” in Cascade, Idaho) and their connection to it.
  • Students build a foundation for Leadership development through the introduction to procedures and new skills.
We look forward to hearing the trail stories when the group returns.  

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

Visitamos el Museo de Neltume


Our Spanish C Teaching Fellow, Melissa, took it upon herself to contact the local museum. She thought that perhaps we could bring our students there. The curator was overjoyed.

The kids were asked to record information about Neltume they hadn’t know yet while also searching through the plaques for the grammar they’ve been learning. They talked about the worker revolutions that began here. They learned about how artisanal woodworking has at once torn the forest down while lifting its people up. And from talking to the curator, they learned about the pride these people feel for their history and their land.