Friday, March 17, 2006

Experience & Transformation in Ed

The weekend of March 4-5 I presented at the Western Region Association of Experiential Education Conference at Camp Arroyo in Livermore, CA. (pic of Camp Arroyo's children's garden) "Experiential Ed" seems to be generally marketed to the outdoor, adventure type crowd. I have to admit I was wary of the different expectations of programs for suburban California kids climbing mountains compared to our urban reality where just mud itself is a bit scary. I wasn't sure I'd fit in with this group of educators.

And my fears were realized. But also they were transformed, which was the theme of the conference. Two workshops really inspired me. The first was led by Melissa Meyer, who uses experiential therapy in her work with youth and their families. In my favorite activity, she asked us to make envelopes and notes out of colored construction paper. On the outside of the envelope we wrote things about ourselves that other people can see. On the notes we wrote things that we don't often share but keep inside. We each decorated our precious little envelopes, and by the end we felt safe enough to share some of our inside thoughts. One I wrote was, "My grandma's stories give me the most hope."

The second workshop I loved was presented by a group of students and their teacher, Rona Zollinger, from the Environmental Studies Academy in Martinez, CA. The students shared their experiences of frustration and sometimes failure in traditional high schools, and of moving to a continuation high school that uses place-based and transformative learning to help youth create a meaningful space to learn, grow, and improve their community. The students and Rona were amazing and inspiring. There were teary eyes all around by the end!

Last, I presented my Urban Sprouts workshop! I was very nervous, but it went great. I even had two participants tell me it was their best workshop of the conference! Michelle and I put together an experiential workshop to engage people with the theoretical model she has created, which drives all of Urban Sprouts' programming. Participants shared stories of transformation and read a great children's story of youth-led community change: The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart. Our training is ready to hit the road, so readers out there, let me know of any opportunities! The model can really help to shape strong garden-based education programs.