This term has been quite hard, perhaps with the most uncertainty out of any term yet. It began when I returned from Chewonki, with a vision of my STP and a plan to complete all my power assessments by the end of the term. As the term progressed and more information and plans about my future as a student emerged, my initial plan morphed and changed almost more quickly than I could keep track of. By now I have completed my STP, and I plan to spend fall of next year taking college classes and then travelling to Spain as an exchange student in the spring. My research paper remains unfinished, as we discovered that if I finished all my power assessments I would need to graduate and would not be able to take advantage of my dual enrollment opportunities.
My learning plan was largely developed when I began spring term, but carrying it out proved to be very difficult. I was hoping to share the field journal workbook I created as my Human Ecology Project at Chewonki with a school as an ongoing ecology project. I contacted multiple schools in hopes that they would be able to carry this idea out to fruition but curriculum was largely set in stone and there wasn’t much room for deviation. This part of the planning process took much longer than I expected as I attempted to both explain what I was doing and seek out a place that had space and values in line with the ones I was hoping to cultivate. The essential questions I was looking at were:
Why is there such a disconnect between what is taught in schools and the immediate available environment?
What specifically is causing kids to be uninterested in their learning?
How can we foster a sense of connection and stewardship towards the natural world in children?
Where would be the most influential place to implement this project?
How can we broaden the classroom to include elements of the “real world” while still meeting the requirements of the state and country?
The big answer to these, of course, is that our current education system is based heavily on the ability to test knowledge, meaning that there is less room for methods of learning that are harder to measure. The school I ended up working with was a little bit more free form, allowing more self direction and independence at a middle school level. This meant that some of the hopes I had were not accomplished because of the simple fact that the environment already supported the type of learning I meant to offer. However, despite my inexperience rounding up kids and creating a learning plan and environment, my final lesson went well. It rained on the day of my STP, so once again I was unable to do exactly what I had planned, but this project did teach me a lot about flexibility and how to adapt to a moving environment. I gained an increased appreciation for the ways teachers work, and a preparation for any future mentorship opportunities I am offered.
In terms of transferrable skills, I learned that in some ways it is dangerous to lay out detailed plan right from the get go. I got wrapped up in the communication aspect in more ways than one. I thought I knew exactly how my project would play out, but at first, that conviction diminished my ability to allow my plan to become what would be best for the environment. I eventually moved beyond that, but then ran into another problem. While communicating with my mentor, I accidentally made it seem like I was more prepared than I was. This made it hard for me to receive a balanced amount of support from her skill set.
Despite it all, we made it work, and the final lesson was successful, albeit spontaneous. This, coupled with the long waiting time dedicated to finding a school to work with, stretched my on-the-spot problem solving skills, and gave me tools for more efficiency in the future. Self direction was a big player here as well, coming in the form of the seemingly endless initial search for a viable community partner. Responsible citizenship and integrated thinking were also important. I worked with a new community, through which I had to quickly adapt to their norms and do my best to add something to their experience. Integrated thinking was used most thoroughly when I was creating the workbook, incorporating elements of hard science and more conceptual activities based on awareness. Overall this might have been the most comprehensive big picture project I have ever completed in terms of transferrable skills.
I also completed two internships through Big Picture this semester. Finding an internship was also a struggle, as I was unsure whether I would need my internship days to work with a school on my STP. I kept them open for awhile, but eventually doubled down and completed several shadow days, followed by my return to my internship from last Spring at Crow’s Path, as well as attaining a new, shorter term internship at a local community non-profit bike shop in Burlington, called Betty’s Bikes. Both of these internships proved to be very inspiring and fulfilling. At Crow’s Path, I worked with 3 middle schoolers and one other mentor to begin filming a movie. It was based on a wild script written by a former Crow’s Path mentor. This allowed me to take on more of a mentor role instead of relinquishing leadership to the many other mentors around, as this group was only me and one other mentor. We had a very silly time, fraught with whimsical costumes and frequent handstands, and of course the creative yet surprisingly good acting skills of middle schoolers. At Betty’s Bikes, we worked on not only bike repair, through which I learned about mechanics and parts I didn’t even know existed, but also organisation, test riding, listing on Craigslist, and learning about general non-profit responsibilities. It was an extremely varied experience, and one I wished I had known about earlier, or at least had the opportunity to continue for longer. For the future, perhaps next fall, I hope to reopen this connection and return for more.
My experience with the big picture community and culture this year has also been slightly difficult. At first, simply reintegrating into the community was difficult. I was no longer sure of my place. I also struggled with the new sense of freedom, as I had been involved in strictly classes for all of fall semester. I found it hard to get things done, because there was so much left to chance with so many of my endeavours. I also found that I lacked some of the planning support I needed, but I didn’t realise that was the main issue until I had already pulled myself back on track. Balancing all this with classes, a new advisor, late term applications to exchange programs and trying to figure out my plans for next year left me feeling frazzled and often unable to focus. My STP planning pulled me away from the group as well, as I found myself out of the classroom on blue days a few times. Despite all this, my frequent time outside of the classroom left me feeling inspired and curious about the world. I think it was a necessary evil, and although it is relatively unsustainable in keeping with the community norms of big picture, it was a welcome experience for the time being. Next semester, I hope I am able to contribute in a positive way to the way big picture is run from the inside. After two years and many nontraditional experiences both within and through big picture, I think I am prepared to make a useful difference. I propose we create a more detailed project planning system as opposed to leaving it all to the student and using our advisors as a resource instead of simply to keep us from goofing off. I also think the community aspect of big picture could use work, potentially implementing more of a student summit type experience every so often, within the community.
My goals for next year include becoming fluent in Spanish and potentially another language such as Catalán or Galician, depending on where I am placed in Spain, creating well informed and well planned projects, breaking my habit of winging things in hopes that I can create work of the highest quality I am able, improving my skills in writing, and taking my role as a senior seriously to give back to the many communities I am part of. I also hope to continue making music both alone and with others, and to keep myself in a consistently inspired and productive mindset. I hope to pursue some lab science, maybe in a college class, and explore political science and anthropology. The possibilities are, as of yet, endless. Cheers, folks.