Our school begins
On Monday December 12, 2016, our school transformed from a dream to a reality! Our first day of school on this cold and rainy day was the culmination of much love and effort of many people, especially: Kathryn Long, Michael Torres, Kai Leathers and Paul Beich. We are very grateful to all who have helped us make this dream come true. Special gratitude to the four families who were the first to enroll their children in our school.
In the first weeks of school in December, we explored our site and began to establish a connection with our surroundings. We played communication games to learn our coyote call that means "Come back right now" and our owl call that means "Show me where you are." We had apples cooked in foil on our fire coals for snack. After a dead possum was discovered under a pine tree, we gathered around it and sang it the death song to honor its life, and petted its head with a stick. We also pondered the details of its life - whether it had friends, where it lived, and how it may have died. We ran as fast as rabbits and foxes, chasing each other around to keep warm. Maintaining the fire in the heart of winter has proven to be a very important part of our daily activities.
After returning from our short break, we began to establish a routine, and everyone has started to adjust very nicely and get into the rhythm of the day. Our possum friend was still around, and the children found its body and observed more of its visible ribs, and we talked about our own ribs. We discovered some wild green onions and learned that we have many tasty treats growing all around us, and we introduced the idea that we can only eat wild things after first showing them to a teacher. Wild onions continue to be a favorite afternoon snack for our burgeoning foragers. After observing some rough and tumble play, we began to play games, such as “I Need Space”, in order to learn about our boundaries and respecting personal space.
Big thanks to our friend, Bill Whipple, who visited and taught us about maple trees, birch chew sticks, and walnuts and hickory nuts. Bill showed the children how to crack the nuts and we made the hickory nuts into a delicious tea. We discovered some stands of Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia) that were little perfect presents on stems full of many tiny seeds.
We have begun to practice our knife skills by cutting our own apples and bananas for snack, and pine needle tea and black jewell popcorn have become staple menu items for snacktime.
The children consistently choose to go adventuring down our well-beaten path on the rocky southwest slope of our site, navigating around the ubiquitous blackberry and wild rose thorns. We sing our adventurer song as we move along the trail, and by now it is an everyday custom to search for animal holes and imagine what creatures might live inside. We turn over stones, logs, and rotting leaves to discover centipedes, snails, and lots of interesting varieties of fungi. We have talked about the job that fungi perform in our forest and identified many plants, such as mountain laurel, rhododendron, rattlesnake plantain, yarrow, and we are anxiously anticipating our first wildflowers!
After a long drought and wildfires this fall, we have had plenty of precipitation lately, providing great opportunities to get really muddy!
Finding bear scat on our opening day was our first clue that we would not be alone on our school site, and it didn’t take long for them to visit our campfire and rummage through some of our belongings while we were gone overnight. After losing two tarps to these curious bears, we now regularly breakdown our site at the end of the school day and are careful not to leave any food scraps behind.
It was only a matter of time before we actually saw a bear. While on our usual trail explorations, some of the students wanted to return to the fire to warm their bodies, so I continued with the other two children who wanted to venture on. The three of us climbed down a steep hill that we had never tried before, then turned around to go back up after we decided to not go any further. We struggled to get back up due to the slippery conditions after all of the rain, and I told them to stay low to the ground and crawl like a bear for better balance. Right on cue, as we neared the top I saw the face of a curious bear checking us out from about 40 yards away. It was a small bear, maybe an adolescent, and I feared that a mother bear might be nearby, so instead of heading back the way we came, I guided the students back down the hill to approach our main site from another direction.
I was quite surprised to see the bear, as that is the closest I had ever seen one in person, and my initial reaction was to just get the students safely back to the rest of the group. I did not tell them at the time that I had seen the bear because I didn't know what their reaction would be. Looking back on the experience, I wish I would have taken time to point out the bear. Next time, I will be more mentally prepared, and hopefully I can turn it into a learning experience for the children. I know that this is the first of many bear sightings on our school's site, and I hope to encourage our students to revere and respect these special creatures, instead of fear them.
Our school staff grows
In January, Kathryn and Kai officially became the teaching team of our school, while Paul stepped out of daily teaching responsibilities to focus on other aspects of the school’s development. Kathryn and Kai are already proving to be an outstanding teaching team! We are extremely fortunate to have these two gifted teachers in our school.
Funding our school
Our non-profit school has been rich with vision, mission, hopes, dreams and committed people, but so far has been very modestly funded. In January we found ourselves with $400 in our school account, and no clear plan about how to pay teachers even a modest salary on a regular basis. The tuition we collect helps to pay teachers, but so far the tuition we collect is not even close to enough in order to pay Kathryn and Kai even modestly for their extremely valuable services. We founded our school as a non-profit so that we can more easily receive funding that will supplement tuition, in hopes that our school’s services can be available to all families who want this for their children. Board President, Michael Torres, and Paul have begun outreach to individuals and organizations that can become donors/sponsors and partners. Michael and Paul have a meeting in the works with someone from REI. Please help us connect with other potential donors/sponsors in the community! Feel free to share your ideas and contacts with Paul or Michael, as well.
To solve the immediate need to pay teachers, Paul decided to take a loan to help cover teacher salaries for the months ahead. The amount Kathryn and Kai are being paid for their work is still well below what they are worth, and below a living wage. Again, we are fortunate to have such dedicated teachers while we solidify our funding base.
Adding days to our school week
In the next few weeks, Thursday and Friday will become available as school days, as soon as we have three children enrolled for each day. This will bring us up to four days a week (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri), hopefully by the end of February. We will add Wednesday as soon as we are able, so that we can fulfill our intention of offering forest school five days a week.
We have decided that, for now, our quota of three year olds is filled. One of the many beneficial aspects of the forest kindergarten model is that it provides a mixed-ages learning environment where children learn from their peers. For now, we will be enrolling only 4, 5, and 6 year olds to help bring diversity and balance to our class.
New helpers in our school
Krysta Denzer has joined our school as an intern-volunteer. She is a senior outdoor education major at Montreat College. She finds tremendous beauty and inspiration in the natural world and loves working with young children and growing minds. To watch a face light up with the discovery of understanding is one of her favorite things. Krysta is very interested in holistic education and seeks to help others learn and grow throughout her life. We are very grateful for her help and look forward to seeing her often.
Our school has been contacted by a volunteer who wants to teach Spanish to our students. This is an answer to one of our desires...to offer a second language as part of our curriculum! More on this as the details become clear.
Summer program in the planning phase
The teaching staff has decided that our school will offer a Summer Program in 2017. As soon as we finalize the dates that will be offered, we will announce those!
Help that our school needs
Our school runs on the dedication of people who care about the mission of our school. We are in the process of creating job descriptions the following positions:
Graphic Design/Website Manager (could be combined for a person who has all of these skills)
These positions will initially be volunteer positions, but could become paid for a person who has proven to be very effective in their position. Feel free to share among your contacts that we are accepting applications for these positions, and direct any interested applicants to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sample Day - Friday February 10, 9:30am-11:30am at our school site on Town Mountain. (add facebook event link) For now, the school will offer sample days on the second Friday of each month.
Screening of “School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten” Wednesday March 1 This documentary film has been a very valuable teaching/learning tool for our school from the beginning. It was mostly filmed at a forest kindergarten in a village in Switzerland, and vividly demonstrates what a forest school is, and the many benefits of this model.
Open House Wednesday March 15, 4pm-6:30pm This will be an opportunity for interested parents to visit our school site, meet our staff, and learn about our school. Refreshments will be offered.
Community Camp-out at the school site on Town Mountain