Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Power of Community

Cody Ewert
Middlesex Elementary, 
Carlisle PA
2015 TTEC Cohort

In May, 2015, I found myself sitting in the Shenandoah National Park (a place that I have dreamed to spend time as a hiker, without the need to hang my hammock there for fear of the higher than normal frequency of black bears).  I felt completely vulnerable, taking an educational and professional risk by signing up for the TTEC program.  Were my colleagues back at school going to view this as a joke?  Would I be taken seriously for seeking ways to combine my passion for the outdoors with my passion for educating our youth?  Would I be able to offer anything to my TTEC colleagues that would be of any relevance to them after our time of collaboration?  Would they be able to help me clear my foggy mind and help to unravel the mess of knots that were my ideas and aspirations for getting my students, somehow, outdoors in their learning experience when with me in 5th grade?  I was completely unsure of what would become, but was excited to take a risk.  So, I put faith in the power of community.

I had embarked on a journey of discovery and empowerment.  I was unaware at the time of future responsibilities and unexpected treasures.  I was at the mercy of our agenda during that spring workshop at the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation in Virginia.  This green facility was absolutely inspiring!  Walking from our classroom to my bedroom and then again to the dining facility, I was trying to take it all in.  I wanted to soak up this experience to get as much out of it as possible.  I noticed how the weeds were left in the flower beds and the plants were native and naturally planted.  The construction of different aspects of the buildings got me thinking about things like rain barrels and native gardens at our school. 
I was familiar with the Leave No Trace concept through awareness of hiking responsibility, but I came to understand they actually had their act together with lessons and activities for children to learn the ideas behind conservation.  I had no idea that these ideas were already organized and planned.  They just need a medium for presenting them to the future ambassadors of our environment.    This weekend, I also first met Karen Lutz and Marian Orlovsky.  Karen and Marian work for the AT Conservancy out of the office in Boiling Springs, PA, about 4 miles from my school.  What!? Karen runs the mid-regional section of the AT?!  Marian also graduated from Cumberland Valley School District, where I currently work?  This is a small world…what a fantastic resource they could be!  I felt more than lucky at this point.  The dominos just kept falling into place. 
After this weekend of renewed inspiration, instruction, collaborative inspiration, and community support, Tyler Pierce and I returned to Middlesex Elementary ready to make a difference and enact change.  We invited our school community to come out on a Saturday before Memorial Day to “fix-up” our Nature Trail on the school property.  Our 600 yard trail was established in 2000-2001, but was not regularly used or maintained by anyone.  It was overrun with poison ivy and impassible in spots.  In 2006-2007, an Eagle Scout worked to line it with mulch and complete a bridge system for the stream bed in several spots.  After the initial upkeep, the trail was once again in disarray.  Tyler and I decided it was time to make a formal outdoor classroom and provide our teachers with resources to help them seek opportunities for bringing students outside for instruction. 

On this Saturday in May, we had over 50 tons of crusher stone and 15 cubic yards of mulch donated by our local township composting facility.  The Boy Scouts of America local troop, teachers, students ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade, grandparents, parents, school-board members, and district administrators all came to help!  We were able to line in our trail with stone, clear and mulch a 900 sq. ft. outdoor classroom with seating for over 100 kids, feed all of our volunteers pizza and clean up the mess in about 12 hours from start to finish. 

            The overwhelming pride I felt and recognition of the power of community served as a moment in my teaching career that I will constantly strive to repeat. 

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” —Mahatma Gandhi
This is our completed educational space for students.

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North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
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Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald