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FEB. 4, 2016

Learning is the Thing For You

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Katie Harris, Dean of Academics

The students of Semester 42 finished their first week of official classes at The Outdoor Academy. Though the recent snow had students drying wet gloves and asking what their next class was in a constantly changing “snow day” schedule, not a single class was missed last week save one crafts class. At the beginning of my English class on Thursday, I asked our students what they had learned at school so far, and the responses were as wide-ranging as our students’ geographical homes.

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Patrick shared that he learned how to edit songs; Eva learned how to chop wood with a wedge. Finn learned that high mortality rates in certain species are the consequence of laying high numbers of eggs, while Ade learned how to knit. Another student learned both what a niche is in scientific terms and how to use a washing machine. I had to cut my respondents off because I had run out of space on my paper to take note, but it seemed that quite a lot had taken place in just a few days.

Once asked by a colleague to define “education” in as brief a phrase as possible, I replied, “Change.” It seems simple enough, but to create an environment for the greatest, most effective, and most positive change possible requires an enormous amount of work on the part of both teacher and student. While Eva worked very hard at splitting a log (I can personally attest that this is quite a difficult endeavor) and Finn questioned the various birthing strategies among species, our faculty spent hours behind the scenes creating the space for our students to grow and change. During the run of unusual snow days, faculty came in at odd hours and at a moment’s notice to teach a class. Our math team (Racheal, Robbie, and Susan) spent the week getting to know our new students and shifting the class rosters around to both achieve a community of learners in each class while fully challenging each individual student. Incidentally, the Algebra 2 math curricula of California, New York, and Florida are not identical.

Polly and Rodrigo, our world language teachers, checked in with me often as they sought the perfect balance between challenge and comfort level among students. Ted took his science classes on their first adventure around campus. And I was honored to hear from Mary Claire that the ending to one of our assigned short stories in English class was, in her words, “mind-blowing.” Similar anecdotes could probably be found about the arts, outdoor education, and history courses of the week had I done due diligence.

I am inspired by the heart and dedication of my fellow faculty here at The Outdoor Academy, and it is with them in my mind that I share the words of T.H. White from The Once and Future King:

“[Learning] is the only thing that never fails… That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

Katie Harris, Dean of Academics