Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Power of Perspective

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

We can all benefit from getting away.  Traveling asks us to try new things, to be tolerant of different ways of living, and to see unfamiliar places with open eyes.  Ironically though, being away leads us to reflect on our lives back at home.

When I went back to graduate school, I had the intention of becoming that teacher who got kids outside to learn as often as possible.  My years as an Outward Bound Instructor taught me the power of learning and adventuring in nature, and I wanted to bring this experience to a broader audience.    For six years as a third grade teacher, I took my students outside to hike through the  foliage in the fall, to look for animal signs on snowshoes in the winter, and to observe muddy vernal pools in the spring.  These little jaunts were wonderful, but I wanted to do more and to reach out to greater numbers of kids.

In 2009 I took a leave of absence from my third grade teaching position so I could travel with my family to Cuzco, Peru where we lived for the school year.   My new status as an unemployed expat in Peru was a welcome contrast to my full life as a school teacher in Maine.  On any given day back home, I would be busy planning lessons, grading, emailing, paying bills, taking a graduate class, fixing up our old house and driving our children to and from lessons.  But in Cuzco, we lived out of suitcases in a small rental apartment and spent our early days figuring out ordinary things like how to buy food and cook, how to navigate the neighborhood, and how to do laundry.  For the first time in a long time, I had the mental space available to contemplate what might be.

Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but it also sharpens the focus of the mind's eye.  Living in Cuzco, an ancient city built in a bowl-shaped valley ringed by rocky peaks,  I found myself nostalgic for Maine.  I missed the crashing surf on the rocks at Reid State Park.  I dreamed about the frosted trees lining the sides of ski trails, the creaking of their frozen limbs muffled by the snow.  I longed for the smell of pine sap and freshly fallen maple leaves.  As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, I became more and more aware of what a special place Maine is.  My mind began to work overtime thinking about how I could get children to see what I was seeing: their place through new eyes.

At some point during that year away, my attention turned to The Chewonki Foundation.  Chewonki  is a world class outdoor education organization, and its headquarters is located just fifteen minutes from most of the schools in RSU 1.  Why, I wondered, were we not working with this amazing resource?  One thing led to another.  I reached out to Superintendent Manuel and the principals of BMS and WCS.  I met with Andy Bezon, Greg Shute and Lisa Packard from Chewonki to map out an 8th grade canoe trip.  I spoke at school board meetings and planned extensively with the 8th grade faculty.

You know how the rest of this story turned out.

Year one of FLOW has just wrapped up, and ninety-six 8th grade students took us up on the offer of  getting away for a week.  "Away" though, as it turns out, was just four miles from school.  In a place like Bath, Maine, you don't have to go very far to get away from it all.

So now, my hope and my prediction is that the cycle will continue.  It took a year in Peru for me to recognize the wealth of possibilities we have here in Maine, and I returned home with a purpose.  For the students who participated in FLOW, what will the experience do for them?  What possibilities and pathways will open up for these kids that might not have otherwise been there?  Time will tell, but for now I know they came home happy, more aware of the need to protect fresh water,  and proud to have lived out on the islands for a week.  I have to believe they also came home with a new level of appreciation for just how special this world is, and how lucky we are to live in this part of it.

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