Thursday, November 24, 2016

Celebrating FLOW 2016

The third annual "FLOW Reception" was held at Bath City Hall on Thursday, 11/17. The idea for this culminating event originally came from our partners at Chewonki who recognized what a powerful experience FLOW is for the kids and the community at large, and knew that it warranted a celebration. Now, in our third year of FLOW, the reception seems more important than ever.

FLOW is not just a canoe camping trip -- it's a pivotal experience that opens the door to deep, contextual learning in every content area. And it also helps kids build skills in crucial areas that fall outside the traditional content strands: strengthening relationships with peers and teachers, increasing self-reliance, practicing compassion, promoting stewardship and appreciation of nature, and experiencing the value of perseverance, quality and effort.

The event has been well attended each year, and is always catered by Katie Winglass from Mae's CafĂ©. The food is delicious and beautifully displayed, and Katie brings a helper with her -- her daughter Mae. Mae, now a sophomore at Morse High School, was in the first group of students to ever attend FLOW in 2014. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Mae as she occasionally paused from setting out food to look around the room at the photographs and student work displayed on the walls. I imagined she was reminiscing about her own week out on the Sheepscot River with her classmates. We hope that kids hold onto the powerful memories from FLOW, and draw on them as a resource as they continue to grow up, developing and clarifying their sense of self. 
RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel speaking to the audience.

The Bath City Hall is a wonderful venue for a gathering like this. It's so meticulously maintained that it feels like a time capsule. This is where important city meetings take place. This is where citizens of Bath vote. This is where we celebrate our students and their community for another year of successful FLOW trips.

This year's students all wrote as part of their trip. One group wrote "vignette memoirs," another group wrote narratives, and another group wrote creation myths in the tradition of the Wabanaki tribe that once lived throughout the Sheepscot River watershed. Seven students presented excerpts of their work at the gathering. On the back wall of the room, students' paintings and pop-up books were on display. 

BMS Humanities teacher Adele Carter explaining student projects.

WCS Social Studies teacher Leann Fisher introducing her students who read vignette-memoirs.

BMS art teacher, Jackie McKeon, was incredibly excited to be a chaperone for FLOW this year. She dove right in to the experience with ideas for integrating art. Students created sketches and watercolors while out on FLOW, and then spent time back at school developing those ideas into paintings. The landscape/still life paintings depict moments in time from FLOW.

This is the kind of high level student work that becomes possible when teachers see the potential in educational opportunities like FLOW. Jackie knew the experience would elicit strong feelings in students, and she harnessed those emotions to help them create these extraordinary works of art.

Another project that Jackie created was a visual and tactile complement to the myths students wrote in the Wabanaki tradition. Each student created a 4 panel pop-up book combining artwork with excerpts of their myth. The students were captivated by the work--  it was fun, challenging, and exciting.  It too required concentration and perseverance. Approaching concepts from different perspectives using multiple disciplines is a way to cement learning in students' minds. 

On Friday, November 18th, Bath Middle School held its first all-school CREW assembly. This was a chance for each of the six houses in the building to share some highlights from the start of the school year. Following a slideshow of photographs from FLOW, The 8th grade students presented posters they had made celebrating their favorite moments of the trip.

Programs like FLOW don't just happen. So many talented and dedicated people collaborate for the success of this program. Thank you to everyone who played a role in this year's trips. And thanks especially to the teachers who gave up a week of their lives to go explore our local wilderness with a bunch of 8th graders:

Barb Mills (BMS P.E.)
Elizabeth Rattey (BMS Foreign Language)
Rick McGuire (BMS Math)
Leah Heyman (BMS Science)
Don Seymour (BMS Computer)
Adele Carter (BMS Humanities)
Monica Wright (BMS Science)
Kyle Beeton (WCS ELA)
Leann Fisher (WCS Social Studies)
Nancy Riggs (WCS Special Education)
Denise Friant (WCS Science)
Lawrence Kovacs (RSU 1 GT)
Theo Lucas (WCS Ed. Tech)
Brent Luchies (BMS Science)
Jackie McKeon (BMS Art)

We are already excited and looking forward to FLOW 2017!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Year #3 Fieldwork Wrap Up

The overall structure of FLOW changed in some important ways this year. The trip itself was run from Tuesday to Friday as opposed to Monday to Friday, and Chewonki offered us the chance to return to their campus two weeks after the trip for a day of team building activities and initiatives. This was a targeted effort to give groups the chance for closure and final debriefing about FLOW. Ideally, our hope was that students would be able to identify learnings from FLOW that they could draw on as resources and apply to their lives.  It was a GREAT idea!

Kids were excited to get back out to Chewonki Neck. This time -- without sleeping bags or a week's worth of clothing --it felt like a homecoming or reunion of sorts. It was great to see the smiles as groups were reunited with their Chewonki instructors and hustled out to the field for a brief round of big-group games.  After this we broke up into our FLOW groups and headed into the woods.

One of the most striking things I noticed was the level of focus our group displayed right from the start -- it was far beyond what I saw on day #1 of FLOW. Each of the FLOW groups had two or three kids join their group for this day who had not been able to go on the trip. The FLOW veterans made quick work of setting a positive tone of productive collaboration for the newcomers. This was a small snapshot of the amazing potential that exists in harnessing key experiences to promote transformational growth in kids.

The level of challenge in each of the activities ramped up as the day progressed. It was important to remind the group about the importance of quality when collaborating to complete a task. It took many tries to get everyone across the "islands" pictured here.

The value of any experience is affected by the ways we reflect on it. After each activity we talked as a group to identify successes and areas for growth. Lessons like these, mixing physical, emotional and intellectual challenge, are more likely to be cemented in our memories. As these kids continue their journey through middle school and beyond, they will have the memory of these experiences to use as tools to help them succeed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

FLOW Week #2

Photo © Don Seymour
I met the buses last Friday as they delivered students back to Bath Middle School. There were abundant smiles and a lot of positive energy as the kids charged down the stairs. I got high-five after high-five and heard "it was really fun!' over and over.

I didn't get to go on this round of trips, so I don't have any specific anecdotes to share, but I can say that this group enjoyed another week of perfect weather. The skies were clear and the temperature was just about perfect. 

Photo © Don Seymour

This was the last week of trips for Bath Middle School. The final week of FLOW 2016 wraps up with 42 8th graders from Woolwich Central School next week.

Photo © Don Seymour
Photo © Don Seymour
Earlier this week, I pulled an outdoor clothing catalog out of my mailbox. Along with the usual stunning photos of people adventuring in breathtaking landscapes, it included a number of thoughtful essays about the benefits of getting kids outside. There is a growing body of empirical evidence linking outdoor adventure experiences for adolescents to increased confidence, improved ability to weigh outcomes, and overall greater happiness.
Photo © Don Seymour

Photo © Don Seymour
Photo © Don Seymour

As FLOW continues to establish itself as an integral part of the fabric of middle school at RSU 1, our hope is that the experience helps kids successfully navigate this dynamic period of their lives. By providing scaffolded lessons in appropriate risk taking, we hope we are quieting those teenage brains from so many distractions, and getting them primed to learn.
Photo © Don Seymour

Monday, October 3, 2016

Trail Work Collaboration with KELT

This is the third year of FLOW, and from the outset our objective has been for every 8th grade student to have the opportunity to spend a week canoeing and camping in our local watershed. In order to accomplish this, though, a great deal of coordination and planning has to take place. Local organizations and individuals have donated money and clothing. The athletic director and coaches have altered the sports schedule and practice expectations. Teachers have had to be flexible and stand in for their colleagues who are out on the trip. And, as we hoped, the participation rate has increased each year. 

Participation Rates
  • 2014 -- 65%
  • 2015 -- 76%
  • 2016 -- 82%

But even with all that work, we expect that for some kids FLOW might be too far outside their comfort zone. Or maybe sudden, unforeseen circumstances might come up, making it impossible for them to be away from home. Monica Wright, a science teacher at Bath Middle School, had the idea for students not attending FLOW to do service projects on the local trail system right in Bath. So we reached out to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT) to collaborate on meaningful work that still got kids outside, but allowed them to go home each night. 
Mr. Meserve helping students dismantle a rotten bridge.
The Whiskeag Trail, a popular five mile walk traveling from the YMCA to The Thorne Head Preserve at the northern tip of Bath, had a number of bridges that had fallen into disrepair. KELT's trail building expert, Cheri Bruneault, worked with twenty of our students to replace four bridges on the trail over the course of eight days.
Siting the supports for the new bridge.
The Whiskeag Trail passes right by Bath Middle School, so students were able to walk to the work site for the first week. For week two, they took a short bus ride to a more distant section of the trail. A teacher from BMS accompanied them each day.
Preparing the site on the opposite bank.
The first task was carrying the lumber into the site. It took teamwork and perseverance to lug the materials out there. Next was the dismantling of the old bridges, and finally building the new ones.
Laying down the planking on the bridge surface.
Getting a lesson in planking the bridge surface.
There is a lot of good that can come from experiences like these. There are the building skills like how to measure, saw and hammer. There is also the realization that hard work and perseverance can result in great accomplishments. And there is the sense of pride that comes from doing work to benefit others. But also, many of these kids had never been on this trail. It travels through beautiful areas of green space right in our city limits, and is easily accessible. Now that they have been on the Whiskeag and helped to build its trails, these kids might see it as a resource for them to visit and enjoy.

Within hours of completing the fourth bridge, mountain bikers and hikers were already happily trying them out.
Mountain biker trying out one of the new bridges.
FLOW is more than just a canoe trip that takes kids out on the water for four days. It's also an important collaboration between community organizations, families, businesses and schools. Through these experiences, students learn about and take pride in the place they call home. Thanks to everyone who helped make the work on The Whiskeag Trail possible. We hope to see you out there!

Monday, September 26, 2016

FLOW 2016, Week #1, BMS Seguin House

Sunrise Across the Sheepscot River
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs
Seguin House Students from Bath Middle School spent four days out on the water last week during a stretch of glorious, fall weather. The forty students were divided into five groups, and they wasted no time getting geared up and shoving off to Berry Island, Castle Island, Oak Island, and the tip of Chewonki Neck. The group I was with was last to go through "paddle school," so we used the bit of extra time to go for a swim down at the waterfront.
Full Speed Ahead
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs
The first bit of paddling we did took us around Chewonki Neck to a campsite named "Ideal." As fog rolled in across the opposite shore, we learned how to set up our tents and build a fire. The cook crew put together an amazing batch of mac-and-cheese which we ate sitting around the fire.
Sunset Across the Sheepscot River
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs

Our Boats High and Dry at Low Tide
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs

Sunrise from "Ideal"
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs

Sunrise on Berry Island
Photo © Monica Wright
The academic curriculum for this week was a combination of outdoor living skills taught by the Chewonki staff, and an exploration of Wabanaki mythology taught by BMS teachers. Our Chewonki instructor, Johnson, did an amazing job of teaching us about map and compass skills on day #2. The students learned to orient a map, adjust for magnetic declination, and shoot and follow a bearing. After marching into the woods, we took turns following a bearing that took us right back to our campsite.
Drawing the Parts of a Compass
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs
One of the Wabanaki creation myths we read about was that of Wuchowsen, a giant eagle whose flight caused crippling winds and storms all over Earth. The gist of the story is that the flapping of the giant bird's wings caused widespread destruction all around the world, so Glooskap, the giant who created the entire world, tied one of Wuchowsen's wings behind his back and left him at the North Pole. With just one wing, Wuchoswsen's destructive power was limited both in strength and range. As we toured the Chewonki campus on day #4, we visited the aviary where a number of injured birds of prey are cared for. There, we found this thirty-one year old bald eagle with just one functioning wing. Paying homage to the Wabanaki legend, this bird is also named Wuchowsen. 

Photo © Lawrence Kovacs
Journaling on the Shore of Berry Island
Photo © Monica Wright
Launching at Low Tide
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs
After days of practice, traveling by canoe became easier and easier. As we explored the local islands and coastlines, the kids could be seen joking and laughing as we glided along. On day #3 we had the opportunity to learn "T Rescues." We intentionally swamped boats one at a time, and rescued them using a technique that empties and rights the canoe. The process takes concerted effort and teamwork. It was great to see the look of pride on the kids' faces as they learned to help each other out of this tricky situation.

Photo © Monica Wright

Rugged Coastline
Photo © Monica Wright

"J" Stroke
Photo © Monica Wright

Warming Up Around the Fire
Photo © Monica Wright

Down Time
Photo © Monica Wright

Grabbing a Can
Photo © Monica Wright

Lunch Along Upper Hell's Gate
Photo © Monica Wright
I was astonished to hear that Monica Wright's group actually made it back to Bath one day! This tireless crew paddled up  the Sasanoa river and against the current to reach this view of their city.
Hard Earned View of Home
Photo © Monica Wright

Celebratory Dunk
Photo © Monica Wright

The students from Acadia House at BMS head to Chewonki tomorrow morning, and they are excited to get there. Look for an updated blog entry next week.
Joyful Paddling
Photo © Lawrence Kovacs