I hold an adamant belief that travel can be an invaluable, life-altering experience. Families that have the means to travel often see it as a luxury, and take for granted the incredible learning that they and their children gain. I work in an alternative high school – most of my students are from families that do not have anywhere near those kinds of means. Their experiences have been, in large part, a struggle and the larger world is mostly an abstraction – including the potential wonder and hope that it can hold. Monteverde, Costa Rica epitomizes that kind of wonder and hope – blending the culture of indigenous inhabitants with that of the American Quaker settlers that arrived in the 1950’s, and balancing a model of conservation with becoming an international eco-tourism destination. The book, Walking With Wolf, tells this story in a remarkable way.
We are now in the midst of a year-long interdisciplinary class that will include Walking With Wolf, student blogs (which I hope you'll check out on the right), individual research projects, and a 10-day trip to Monteverde this Spring. The students are working hard and must fundraise their entire way there - they need your help. If you are willing to support their efforts,
checks can be made out to “Lister Academy – Costa Rica Class”, and mailed to: Robert J. Lister Academy, Attn: Bryan Mascio, 35 Sherburne Road, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Learning While Raking

When our class decided to start raking lawns as part of our fundraising efforts, I never would have imagined how successful and powerful the experience was going to be. First and foremost, I want to thank all of the people that made this possible - the community members that hired us, the staff at the school that continuously stepped up to cover for those of us that were out raking, and all of the students left behind at the school that dealt with the inevitable disruptions.

As a class, we basically stepped away from our book, Walking With Wolf, during the month of November - but the learning certainly did not stop. Most people that aren't involved in manual labor generally don't realize the amount of thinking involved. Thought is what makes the difference between a job getting done, and it getting done well. I've seen it clearly in the past while watching my father-in-law run an excavator, and I was able to see it develop as some of the students started approaching the raking jobs with deliberation and strategic thought. As they started giving directions in order to more efficiently complete the task, I knew that a lesson had been learned that would have been rare to find in the classroom.

Beyond logical problem solving, all of the students grew in their own important ways. Some started taking more responsibility for their decisions - both in and outside of the school day. Others showed greater tolerance for unpleasant conditions and strenuous hours. We sometimes worked for up to 10 hours, all exhausted, but fewer and fewer complaints as time went on. All of the students demonstrated times of great fortitude and perseverance. Especially having recently read Drive, by Daniel Pink and a variety of essays by Alfie Kohn, I am confident in the importance of this kind of growth. This ability to step up and push through is incredibly valuable, and a far more powerful indicator of future success than much of what is done in the classroom. Additionally, the students are able to articulate what made the difference - them and their effort. This, in and of itself, is an incredibly important idea to hold and I would highly suggest that any educators or interested readers take a look at Carol Dweck's book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, to learn more about why. Only those that know that they have the power to change, actually do - and my students are gaining that needed power.

I am very proud of the students in this class, but more importantly, I know that they are proud of themselves. We're all getting more and more excited about our upcoming trip and know that we still have more fundraising to do. If you are interested in helping them out, please check out our website for ways to support their efforts.