Sophomores reflect on the archetypal journey during a weeklong Odyssey trip; seniors apply what they’ve learned in science when they explore coastal ecology in Maine; juniors get in touch with their contemplative selves while secluded in the forest after reading the epic Parzival. Other destinations have included New York and San Francisco, coastal Georgia islands, Canyon de Chelly, and the Okefenokee Swamp—all carefully conceived to relate to the curriculum and augment the students’ sense of discovery and synthesis.
Hermit Island, Maine
Academe seniors travel to Hermit Island, Maine, to join seniors from other North American Waldorf high schools for a memorable week of art, poetry, and marine biology. Our days on the island start as early as 5:30 a.m., depending on the tides, at the tide pools about a mile from our campsite. After two hours spent locating and documenting knotted wrack, sea stars, crabs, moon snails, periwinkles, rockweed, barnacles, and various other forms of coastal flora and fauna, we hike back to camp for breakfast—after which we set off for the kelp shed where we examine marine life up-close.
After lunch, we indulge in a bit of poetry or painting (water-colors, of course!), try our hand at microscope drawings, and explore beach/dune ecology. On the mud flats at low tide, students are sent off to find a clam and a worm, and to have a bite of a sea pickle plant. Then, at last, the “mud frolicking” can begin! Students play in the mud until they are thoroughly daubed and then take a refreshing swim in the ocean to clean off. The first night’s activities include campfire discussions about how students see the world, how it can be changed, how we are going to get there, and who is going to do it. Later in the week, we are treated to a poetry reading with Maine’s poet laureate. On our last night on the island, we enjoy a rousing contra dance—a celebration of our week together.
Each year, in conjunction with their Transcendentalism main lesson block and study of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, Academe seniors spend three days and two nights in the mountain forests of north Georgia. Alone.
For the duration of their “senior solo” camping experiences, removed from the creature comforts of home, from electronic communication, and from each other, students have an opportunity to reflect quietly, to look inward, and to behold the beauty of nature. “Out there,” on their own, students compose poetry, write reflective essays, sketch; but mostly they take time to observe themselves and nature, and to step back from the everyday world for a renewal of the spirit. Many students find themselves truly alone for the first time in their lives, away from friends, family, phones. For most, perhaps all, it is a transformative encounter, a precious experience of calm, quiet, and insight.
“They came in the long car and took us away.” Lupita, our Diné (Navajo People) guide, shared with us her memories of childhood in the Canyon de Chelly. She told us of a time when government officials drove buses—“long cars”—into the canyon, rounded up all the children they could find, and took them to an orphanage to teach them the ways of the white man.
Where once there were fruit trees, corn fields, vegetable gardens, and coursing streams, today government-planted Russian olive bushes have taken over, and Lupita and her family farm the small patch that is left to them of the spacious land that she inherited from her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother. (The Diné, we learn, are a matriarchal society).
We camp on Lupita’s land. There is no running water, no electricity, no bathroom. Lupita and her family live in a hogan, a wood and mud structure with a dirt floor. We help Lupita re-mud the hogan, water the corn plants, perform needed maintenance. She takes us on hikes, walking in the footsteps of the ancients. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
In their mathematics track class, tenth-graders explore Euclidean geometry and the rudiments of trigonometry. The concurrent Mechanics main lesson block provides substantial theoretical practice with trigonometric relationships; a week of surveying in the Appalachian mountains gives students real-world experience of these mathematical principles. When they are not hiking, zip-lining, rafting, or reflecting on the majesty of their surroundings, students learn to use the basic tools of surveying—transit, compass, tape measure, leveling rod—to determine elevations of objects on various peaks surrounding the base camp and to calculate distances that are not amenable to direct measurement (such as the width of the Nantahala River). The laws of sines and cosines are given practical application in the woods and wilds of North Georgia.
The 9th grade class trip to Ossabaw Island provides an opportunity for us to combine lessons from our history block, Atlantic Cultures and Empires, with hands-on experience investigating the relics of the past. This year’s trip was no exception. Students camped on the south end of the island under a stand of spreading live oaks. There we explored the flora and fauna of this barrier island first inhabited by coastal tribes more than 5000 years ago. Much later Spanish explorers used the island as a food cache—depositing hogs that remain to this day—colonial plantations planted indigo, and 20th century industry harvested pine trees. All these activities leave traces, and over the course of a week, students examine archaeological evidence, investigate the architecture of tabby cabins, and learn about how the island sustained these populations. When we return to Academe, we are better able to visualize the moment when European people and the people of this continent first encountered one another.
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Decatur, Georgia 30030