The Importance of Experience

What changes would you make if you were made interim-principle of your school?

On a rainy October afternoon, I crouched before a pile of twigs, anxiously trying to start a fire. As I blew on the small flame, the words of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” filled my ears. I was in English class at Conserve School, a semester program focused on outdoor education. After the fire began to burn consistently, my classmates and I enjoyed the heat it provided and were able to fully appreciate London’s story of an unprepared man in the Yukon wilderness who froze to death after he failed to build a fire.

This is just one example of the education I experienced at Conserve School. Many of my classes were taught outside, and were connected to nature and conservation. In history, we recreated the journeys of Lewis and Clark and Ernest Shackleton. Performing water quality experiments and biodiversity surveys in nearby lakes during environmental science class taught me the inner-workings of the environment that surrounded me. This approach linked my education to the world at large.

If I were appointed interim-principal of my high school in Missoula, I would give students the opportunity to learn in outdoor classrooms, perhaps along the banks of the Clark Fork River or on the side of Mount Jumbo. I imagine an interdisciplinary course connecting subjects through the use of Missoula’s natural areas. Some days could be spent sketching the landscape, while others could focus on natural history or ecology. This course would strengthen students’ sense of place and bring variety to the school day. In addition, I would encourage teachers to incorporate hands-on and experiential learning into their traditional classrooms. This would give new dimensions to subjects that may otherwise feel abstract as well as address teenagers’ need for physical engagement.

Of course, I am happy with my high school education. The courses are challenging, and my teachers convey passion and deep commitment to their students. However, some of this passion is lost on us because it is difficult to stay focused throughout the school day. Let’s face it, we are fidgety, distracted teenagers, bombarded by social media and pressured to forge our futures. By connecting our learning with Missoula’s natural beauty, we could settle and focus our brains— even if just for a short while.

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