By: Laura Zeppieri, MBA Candidate, Marlboro College

From the session Education for Sustainability:  Deep Learning: Educating Youth to Cherish Place and Community with Becca Martensen from the Vermont Wildlife School, Lisl Hofer from Kroka Expeditions, and Stephen Stearns from the New England Youth Theatre.

As I entered the Education for Sustainability session, a large group of teens was hanging out, playing the guitars and laughing with each other. They had a vibe about them, which I recognized at the connection and closeness I experienced from my Outward Bound trip. This group had  just come off a 5 month journey with Kroka Expeditions. Kroka is an expedition program that was founding by asking: What do children really need? It’s a community based organization that also allows the community to participate and that is accessible to all: Income is not a factor. Students develop and intense connection to nature, each other, and them selves, as well as a connection to the things they have (like their homemade packbaskets). Sustainability is not just a buzzword, but the way they live their life.

Deep learning happens when children experience each of these three programs. From learning how to be silly and deal with stage fright at the theare, developing a ‘sit spot’ with the VWS, or trekking though Vermont on homemade mukluks, each student learns, grows, and develops a better understanding of how the world works. They develop community, work on their communication skills, and develop a strong sense of personal strength. All this is away from the traditional classroom.

All are perfect examples of educating for sustainability. Personally, I learned more about myself and about the world from my Outward Bound semester then I did sitting in a classroom. While traditional education plays its place, it’s also necessary for our future leaders to be taken out of their comfort zones and experience a new way of learning.  For example, Becca from the VWS has helped develop a set of core routines for each student.

Core routines:
-Gratitude.
-Art of questioning (questioning and looking deeper, and most questions are just past the child’s comfort zone).
-Sit spot (Finding a place close by to sit every day for 15 min to 1 hour, depending on age, in all seasons in all weather. Encourages connection to wilderness and a depth of connection and awareness).
-Journaling.
-Research (field guides).

These core routines directly support VWS’s mission and vision. The VWS “ is a non-profit dedicated to cultivating long-term mentoring relationships rooted in community, nature connection, and earth living skills. Inspired by the ways of Earth-based, indigenous cultures, [they] envision a future where the majority of [their] needs are met in a vibrant, local economy that serves both humans and nature alike. [They] further envision that [they] are one of many bioregional communities across the globe that interconnect and support each other.” (Text from http://www.vermontwildernessschool.org/school/pages/vermont-wilderness-school).

Kroka Expeditions was also founded with similar goals in mind. Kroka encourages learning through experience, and “kids are given a great deal of freedom. In return for that freedom, they are asked to take on a significant amount of responsibility for themselves and their group. They are also asked to be disciplined, work hard and accept [the] way of life while they are w[on expedition]. Traveling with Kroka Expeditions is not just an adventure; it is often a life-changing experience. Through the process of learning how to paddle a canoe, climb a bare rock face, or live simply in the woods, Kroka’s teachers also guides students in exploring their inner selves, examining cultural values and discovering different ways of life.” (Text from http://www.kroka.org/about/about.shtml).
It was moving to see the group from Kroka. All high school students, they had gone on the trip of a lifetime. Their experience will shape how they live their lives. As a huge supporter of experiential education, it will be important for us to incorporate this type of learning in all types of education. While educating children this way is crucial, it’s also important for everyone else to experience different types of learning, especially outdoor learning.