Monday, November 23, 2015

FLOW Reception, Bath City Hall, November 20th 2015

Last Friday at 4:30, more than a hundred people gathered in the auditorium at Bath City Hall to celebrate year two of FLOW.  The warmth and energy in the room was a nice contrast to the early darkness of this cold, November night. The crowd was a combination of students, Chewonki staff, teachers, families, school board members, donors, college professors, administrators, business owners and community members.  While a FLOW slideshow was projected on the wall, people mingled and chatted, enjoying the delicious food provided by Mae's CafĂ©.  Students carried bingo cards, trying to fill in cells with prompts such as "teach someone a game you learned on FLOW," "share your writing with someone," and "tell someone about something you are proud of from FLOW."   A canoe paddle was placed on a table at the front of the room for students to sign --  a physical reminder for everyone of FLOW 2015, and all it represents.

RSU 1 Superintendent, Patrick Manuel, recognized FLOW as a successful departure from traditional educational experiences, using the unique geography of midcoast Maine as both a classroom and an inspiration for learning. He also thanked students' families for being willing to let RSU 1 try something so out of the ordinary with their children. Willard Morgan, the president of The Chewonki Foundation, echoed those sentiments and pointed out that FLOW is a perfect example of learning happening everywhere -- not just in the traditional construct of a classroom in a school.  But the rest of the night belonged to the students.

Five students took turns standing at the front of that crowded room to read pieces of writing inspired in some way by their experiences on FLOW.  The stately room, with its soaring ceilings and fine woodwork, lent an air of reverence to the event.   Three students read pieces of narrative fiction, and two others read poems.  The audience was rapt, nodding much of the time, and laughing when the author shared some humorous tidbit.  I can't overemphasize the courage it took for these 8th graders to stand up and read their work to the people in that room.  It's a memory that will stay with them, and all of us who were there, for a long time to come.

The event ended officially at 5:50, but people lingered, lost in conversation, for nearly an hour more.  I finally called the city  at 7:00 to come and lock the room up.  I wondered, why did people feel compelled to stay and chat idly on a Friday night?  Didn't they have other places to be?   I think what I was witnessing was the transformation of FLOW from a rough idea into a tangible, powerful program that might even be considered a rite of passage for the students of our community.  From the outset, I hoped that FLOW would eventually stand on its own, but I didn't think it would happen so quickly. After all, this is just the end of year two of the program.  But when so many people from different organizations and orbits come together to craft a multidisciplinary program like FLOW, and students reflect on the trip as positive and even transformative, it produces an energy that both defines and sustains it as its own entity.

To quote Superintendent Manuel, we are all committed to continually improving FLOW, and look forward to even better experiences in year three, year five, year ten and beyond.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

FLOW in the news

We have enjoyed some wonderful recognition from the media this year.  Click on the links below to hear what they have to say about FLOW.

Wrapping up FLOW 2015

The students on week #4 of FLOW enjoyed some of the most glorious weather we've had this fall.  They paddled their boats through brilliant sunshine on the glassy waters of Montsweag bay, and slept under a windless sky overflowing with stars.

Photo © Lauren McKenny

As I greeted them on Friday, hauling their belongings up to the Chewonki driveway from the waterfront, it had just begun to drizzle -- it was the first precipitation of the week.  Despite the damp weather, spirits were anything but.  I listened to laughter,  saw big smiles and received a lot of high fives.  One 8th grade girl who had told me the week before that there was no way she would attend FLOW, asked me to help her load her bag into the back of the bus.   She had changed her mind.   "So, how was the week" I asked.  With a grin she yelled "It was great!"

Photo © Don Seymour
We will be debriefing FLOW 2015 this Friday with middle school teachers and administrators .  We plan to discuss the aspects of FLOW that are working, and those that need some retooling.  We will reflect back on the reasons we proposed this trip in the first place.  Are we being true to the original objectives of FLOW?  Are we seeing the effects that we anticipated?  Are we seeing effects we didn't anticipate?  As a large organization, it's exciting to get together for real conversations about the program.  We have the responsibility of identifying the specific role FLOW plays for our students, and shaping it to best meet that purpose.

Photo © Don Seymour

On the night of October first, my FLOW group sat around the campfire enjoying our last evening meal together.  We had great conversations, laughing sometimes, and speaking earnestly at other times.  The next day at lunch we decided that that was the moment when we came together as a group.  Sitting in a circle in the dark, looking at each other's faces, dappled in firelight, the wind wafting smoke this way and that, connecting over a home cooked meal without so many of the distractions we face when back in civilization.  Following the lead of BMS's former guidance counselor, Matt Hamilton, I proposed that we gather together in our small FLOW group for lunch on the first Wednesday of each month to commemorate that moment.  To get things started before the afterglow of the trip wore off, we snuck in our first lunch this past Wednesday.  It felt special to sit together and reminisce about the trip.  But we also talked about other things --movies we had seen, books we were reading, plans for the future, brothers and sisters, food.  FLOW lasts just a week, but it creates connections that last much longer.   When you feel connected to your community in a positive way, even the biggest challenges can be overcome.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

FLOW Week #3, 2015

It was an eventful week for all of us on FLOW.  The weather forecast looked pretty benign, but I had a sneaking suspicion that after three solid weeks of sunshine we were due for something.  Weather is, after all, a game of odds.

My hunch turned out to be valid.

After packing up our camp Tuesday morning with the intention of paddling four miles to Castle Island, we reflexively turned on the VHF radio to hear the marine forecast.  We were surprised to hear NOAA's weather-bot explain about the forty knot winds and torrential rain that were headed our way.  Bummer.  To the credit of our group, without batting an eye or uttering a single complaint, they unpacked their tents and sleeping bags, and set them up again just moments after putting them away.  We would be staying put for the time being.

Our campsite, nestled in a mixed forest above Montsweag Creek, was a nice place to sit and reassess the week's itinerary.  We knew for sure that travel was out of the question on both Tuesday and Wednesday, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be based on Chewonki Neck for the week.  Since the theme of this year's FLOW trips is exploration, and specifically the experience of European settlers coming to North America, our particular circumstances led to some relevant conversations.  What does a group do when the best laid plans need to be changed?  How does a group adapt?  In our case, we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm air mass being ushered in ahead of the maelstrom, and go swimming!

With the dark clouds encroaching from the south, we went for what will likely be our last outdoor swim of the summer of 2015.   After drying off we boarded unloaded canoes and followed the incoming tide up into the sheltered waters of Montsweag Creek.  Rounding a bend of the salt marsh we watched a great blue heron launch from the water while a mature bald eagle skimmed the treetops.  Landing on a small peninsula for lunch I caught a glimpse of a downy woodpecker feeding on a tree.

We took advantage of the still-dry weather to sit in a quiet spot and quietly write for an hour.

I don't have many pictures of the next 36 hours because, as I am sure you know, the skies opened up and around 6 inches of rain fell.  My camera was tucked safely into a dry bag.  On Friday, when I turned my phone back on, there were numerous messages waiting for me, wondering if we had been washed away in the deluge.  Interestingly enough, I think those living in modern civilization fared worse than we did in the storm.  All twenty tents stayed upright and dry during a rainstorm of historic proportions.  It goes to show that many of the modern conveniences that make our lives easier and more convenient are the very things that make us more vulnerable to the forces of nature and the elements.  

One "modern" convenience that we practiced with during the storm was the magnetic compass.  We took refuge in one of the Chewonki Summer Camp cabins to learn about magnetic north, true north, magnetic declination, contour lines, map orientation, and shooting and following a bearing.  These are important skills for anyone trying to find their way, regardless of the mode of transpiration.  After orienting maps and choosing pairs of students to navigate together, students marched through the torrent in search of landmarks, using only their map and compass to find them.   Afterwards, we all commented on how satisfying it was to be out in the weather, enduring the elements while out on our small adventures.

We wrapped up the week with an extended exploration of the Montsweag salt marsh.  We were provided with hip waders, and instructed to watch out for "salt pans,"  muddy areas without vegetation that might be deep.  I turned out to be quite the expert at inadvertently finding them...

The weather was less than optimal this week, but it certainly made for some great memories.  All of the groups earned the bragging rights of thriving in the face of adversity, and gained a bit of insight into the experience of the Europeans who came to North America to claim it as their own.  All of us certainly had a lot to write about!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

FLOW Weather Update for Week #3

Well the weather looks unstable from Tuesday through Thursday this week, so none of the groups will be paddling the open water to the islands.  It's disappointing, but all decisions are made with the safety of our students first and foremost. 

The kids all understand the situation and have a pretty universally positive attitude.  We will be on the mainland until the storm blows through, and will hopefully get out on the water for a day paddle on Thursday.   It should be fun sleeping out in the deluge.  We are battening down the hatches!  See  you on Friday.

Mr. K

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Week #2, 2015

For this year's FLOW trips, we redesigned the curriculum to make it both more relevant, and less cumbersome.   Teachers from Bath Middle School and Woolwich Central School worked many hours together to create this year's lesson plans, and I was curious to hear how it was going.  The ultimate goal is to create a unit of study that can be repeated from year to year.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the debrief of week #2's teacher chaperones, and I liked what I heard.  The Chewonki staff continues to impress us.  They are skilled, warm, consistent and easy to collaborate with.  The academic focus of this year's trips is writing, and students have an hour to write each day.  The whole group takes time around the fire after dinner to share their writing and offer each other feedback.  There is also a bit of unstructured time as well to read the historical fiction novels that the students have brought along.

Coupled with lessons on "hard skills" like navigation, paddling and rescue, this is an experience that will stay with kids long after they get back to civilization.  I heard from two of the chaperones how excited BMS kids were to get to know WCS kids while on FLOW.  They are already looking forward to being in classes together at Morse High School.  They'll have plenty to reminisce about once they get there next fall!
Photo © Eli Wilson
Photo © Maria Newcomb
Photo © Maria Newcomb

Monday, September 21, 2015

Smiling Faces

It was an odd feeling for me, not going out on the first week of FLOW this year.  After last year's experience,  it became clear that it was important to have a point person back on the mainland to handle logistical issues.  So, I sent the first four groups off with high fives and waited until Friday to hear how things went.  The first time I saw the kids was as they came off the bus outside BMS with hoots and laughter.  Everyone was glowing -- both students and chaperones.  

"How was it?" I asked.

"SO AWESOME!" they replied.

Photo © Don Seymour

We made a few key changes to FLOW this year.  First and foremost was recognizing that teaching kids how to live and travel outside on the water takes a lot of time.  We altered our curricular plans to make the schedule more flexible and less stressful.  Students have one hour per day to write in a journal in response to a few key prompts.  Pieces of writing are discussed at night around the fire.  This writing will be revised, expanded and transformed into published pieces as part of the "FLOW Anthology," which will be presented on November 20th at Bath City Hall.

Photo © Don Seymour

With a less cumbersome curriculum coming from our end, the Chewonki Outdoor Classroom Staff were able to teach lessons on outdoor living skills, paddling, tides, geology and map and compass in greater depth.  The mathematical concepts involved in shooting bearings and transitioning between map and land clearly connect to the math we teach back at school.

Photo © Don Seymour
But looking beyond the lessons and the hours spent planning curriculum, it's important to recognize that there is also intrinsic value in the act of simply spending time in the wild with friends.  Taking a break from electronics, pulling yourself across the water in a boat with all your belongings on  board, carefully collecting and piling kindling to build a fire, sharing stories while looking up at the stars -- these are simple experiences that have the power to change us.

As these 8th graders begin their last year together before entering Morse High School, FLOW gives them a common bonding experience.  The memories made out here on the water will do a lot to nudge them a bit further than they ever thought they could go.

Photo © Don Seymour

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Week #1, Day 4

Well, I don't suppose anyone going on FLOW this week will complain about the weather!  Today is the fourth day of brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures.  The stars were so clear from downtown Bath last night that I imagine they were especially bright out in the bay, away from the glow of civilization.

Photo © Don Seymour

Today is a travel day.  The base camps that were set up have been dismantled, the boats have been loaded, and as I write this post the students are paddling their way back to Chewonki Neck.  They will camp tonight at the same site they used on Monday.  Tomorrow morning, they'll break camp one last time and paddle around the corner to the Chewonki waterfront where they will clean all the group gear, re-provision spice kits and first aid kits, transfer their personal belongings back into their own bags, share lunch and say goodbye.

Day four is a turning point on any wilderness trip.  The routines that may have seemed strange and awkward at the start of the expedition become the norm by this point.  Cooking, cleaning, paddling, setting up tents, journaling, reading maps -- they are all just part of the way you live while out on the water. This is the moment when groups really start to shine.  So tonight's time around the fire will be special.  Just as the group is hitting its stride,  everyone knows that this will be the last time they will  be together with just each other.

Photo © Don Seymour

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sneak Peek

Photo ©Don Seymour
Here is an image of one of the FLOW groups unloading boats in ethereal light on night #1 of their trip.  After camping on Chewonki Neck, the boats will be loaded and the groups will head out to the chain of islands further south on Montsweag Bay.

It's a revelation for many of the students on this trip that places as remote and beautiful as this exist just a few miles from their school.  We are all hopeful that spending time together in this local wilderness will offer kids new perspectives, and inspire thoughtful writing.

Monday, September 14, 2015

And, they're off!

The first FLOW groups of 2015 arrived at Chewonki this morning with tons of positive energy and smiles on their faces.  The sun had come out just minutes before the bus pulled in delivering 29 students to the campus.  Hopefully this was some foreshadowing of the great week to come.

This week's bunch is divided into four groups (7,7,7,8).  One group will be on Oak Island, one on Berry Island, and two groups will be on either end of Castle Island.  The immediate weather forecast looks excellent with dry conditions and comfortable temperatures both day and night.

You won't hear much about the FLOW adventurers this week because a big part of this experience is taking a break from the internet.  You'll have to wait until they return and share their impressions of the trip with you firsthand.

Happy paddling, FLOW-ers!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Please join us for an informational meeting about FLOW, the weeklong canoe trip for 8th grade students, this Tuesday from 6:30 to 7:30 in the Bath Middle School cafeteria.  If you have any questions about the trip, or would just like more information,  please attend this meeting.  Thanks!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Happy first day of school!

Welcome back everyone.  I hope you all had a fun, relaxing summer.  Tomorrow morning we will be holding a short meeting at BMS to discuss the upcoming FLOW trips.  The most important things we will be covering are:

  • Chewonki Health Forms.  These need to be filled out and returned to school no later than Friday, September 4th.  
  • Going over the clothing and personal gear list.

I will post the schedule of trips at school in the next day.

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Groups are set!

Happy June!  I have just returned from distributing the permission slips and informational packets to all 7th grade students.  It feels good to be so far ahead of where we were at this time last year.  BMS students have been told the specific week that they will be out on FLOW.  WCS students will be on FLOW during either the week of September 21st or September 28th.   

Permission slips must be returned by Friday, June 12th.

A digital copy of the permission slip is attached to this blog under the "Pages" section on the right in case you need another.


  • There are three options for payment.  You can send in cash, a check made out to RSU 1, or you can elect to pay in the fall.  Since one of the objectives of FLOW is to encourage children to set the goal of earning and saving money, it is perfectly fine if you would like to pay in the fall.  Do not let the absence of the $50 payment keep you from returning the permission slip by June 12th!

FLOW 2015 is shaping up to be an amazing experience for our students.  RSU 1's commitment to critical introspection and continual improvement is sure to pay off.  If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gearing Up for FLOW 2015

This week I had the chance to talk with the 7th graders at Bath Middle School and Woolwich Central School about FLOW.  It was GREAT.  I brought in some gear for them to see and did an activity that talked about the importance of safe risk-taking and getting into the "learning zone."  The kids were attentive, energetic, enthusiastic and had many excellent questions.

Based on feedback from FLOW 2014, there are are a few changes to this year's trip:

  • Each student will get to choose up to three kids who they would like to have in their group.  They will be guaranteed to have at least one of those friends with them.
  • Our goal is to have student groups set before the end of the school year.
  • The lessons on FLOW will most likely be centered on narrative writing.  The lessons will be more flexible meaning that groups will be less crunched for time.   
Come back frequently to look for updates and don't hesitate to get in touch with me directly.

Best Wishes,

Lawrence Kovacs

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."

-John A. Shedd