Elaine: There are so many things we could talk about today. This semester has been amazing. But throughout it all, one idea that has been really impressed on us is that of COMMUNITY. On Monday nights, we have community meetings. We do community service and have community bonding. Everything from Kitchen crew to a Donahue rave is seen as a community activity. This sense of intense togetherness and what it means to live with such a small group of people is something that we’ve spent this semester figuring out. Our community has expanded from initially just our peers to include our teachers and grad fellows on campus and eventually the campus itself and our understanding of the wilderness. Today we’re going to share some lessons we’ve learned along the way, and how we might be able to take them and apply them to our futures. Dave’s going to tell us about his experience in first coming here.
Dave: When I got to Land O’ Lakes Wisconsin On January 29th I wasn’t really sure what to expect of the new school I was going to spend the next four months of my life at. I was hoping the school was going to be filled with good natured, well rounded, like minded young adults, like myself. Boy was I wrong! Instead my new classmates were even better than what I hoped for; they were from all different backgrounds, some had more experience with the outdoors than I had, others had less. But in the back of my mind I was worried that we wouldn’t get along because we were all so different. But that worry was quickly thrown away when I started to get to know everyone. We were all different, but we were all new kids, and we all desperately wanted to make new friends. I think I started to become comfortable with my new colleagues the second day. I was so surprised that everyone was so open to one another. We all quickly became close. Being so close to one another we learned a few lessons.
Elaine: One of the most important lessons we’ve learned from this community is how to communicate peacefully. This came out of necessity. We literally spend all day together every day. You really can’t afford to dislike someone in a community this small. I remember during the first couple weeks of school, Rose said “I know that we’re like a family now, because you have to put up with everyone even if you don’t like them.” This is so true, and at times it was hard, but in the end we’ve become very close because of this and gained the ability to keep cool when things bothered us.
Dave: In our class we have kids from all different cultures, backgrounds, and religions. But we learned to not judge each other based on stereotypes or preconceived notions. We quickly realized that we were all a family here and we are stuck with each other whether we like it or not. This is not to say that we lived in a utopian society. We had arguments, but we didn’t let them affect the community as a whole. But not only did we accept peoples’ cultures we embraced and learned from them. For example: Rachel, Rose, and Danielle taught the community about their religion. They invited us to go to Shabbat in Fridays and to see their Passover traditions. This is just one example how we learned from each other.
Elaine: We’ve also learned that when you live in a small community everyone is up in each other’s business all the time. If you have Ana trim your hair, you can count on everyone noticing before breakfast, and new socks are the only articles of clothing that might be able to slide by uncommented upon. When you pass someone in the hallway, you most likely know what they ate for breakfast, how they are getting along with their brother, and what grade they got on Michael’s last quiz. This can sometimes make you feel a little claustrophobic, but mostly it makes you feel loved.
Dave: I have never been in a community this close before. I go to a school were you may have about 10 kids that you hang out with. Here I have 43 other kids I can talk to if I’m bored, sad, angry or happy. It’s not just the students I am close with though, I feel a connection with all of the teachers and staff at conserve school. I feel like I could go up to anyone on campus and just talk to them.
Elaine: One of our first instructions when we reached campus was to address the adults, teachers and administration included, by their first names. This was somewhat shocking to me as I have always addressed people as Mrs. or Mr. But it really is representative of how the adults at Conserve treat us. Asking us to address them by their first names was like saying that our opinions matter and that they value our thoughts. What started out as something I considered a challenge has become something I treasure. We’ve learned so much from our teachers as human beings, but we’ve also learned a lot from their classes:
Dave: In Jeff’s English class, Wilderness Voices, we learned about the definition of wilderness, and used a wide variety of opinions on wilderness to help form our own. We also learned that we are MAD AS HELL AND WE AREN’T GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!
Elaine: In Michael’s History of Wilderness of Exploration, we used hands on class periods with experiential activities to learn about explorers from Shackleton to Lewis and Clark. Our classes included a game of soccer on the lake and hacking away at a dugout canoe. Also, we learned that Abraham Lincoln was a righteous dude.
Dave: In Robert and Andy’s science classes: Applied Ecology and Sustainable Systems, we covered an incredible span of topics. So many topics. It really sparked an interest in a wide array of environmental issues. We didn’t only cover issues; we also discussed solutions, so that we left feeling hopeful about the future.
Elaine: In Field Instruction we learned many new skills related to outdoor recreation. We put these to the test with activities like Solos and Exploration Week. But beyond just learning the skills, our field instructors shared countless personal stories with us about their experiences in the wilderness making it relatable. These stories also will help us avoid possible trouble we could run into: like getting your GORP stolen by a two legged chipmunk, or not quite making it to the cat hole. Everyone’s schedules in the mornings were completely different, but all amazing. We want to thank Kathy, Kathleen, Robert, Nancy, and Andy for teaching our continuation classes, which allow us to continue studying topics from our sending schools but with Conserve School style. We learned so much from your classes and really want to thank you all.
Dave: We are also thankful for how our sense of community has expanded to include the natural world- especially places on campus and in Sylvania. Being able to live so closely to nature and relate the environment to personal experiences makes environmental issues seem more important. It would be impossible to sum up what wilderness and closeness to nature has meant to each of us- but it is telling that almost everyone said it was what they will most take away from this semester. For most of us- the amount of time we spend outside drastically increased when we came to Conserve. Hopefully this is something that we will all take home with us.
Elaine: So over the course of 16 weeks, we’ve created this big, functioning, dysfunctional family that we’ve figured out to thrive in. We know where to go for a quiet sleepover and where to go for a rave. We know who is fun to climb trees with and who can start a great campfire. We know how to have the BEST NIGHT OF OUR YOUNG LIVES. We like to sculpt, and carve, and knit and paint, but we also like to run, climb, paddle, and bicycle. We have the instrumentation for great campfire jam sessions, or possibly a ukulele folk band. And we’ve learned not only how to express ourselves, but how to listen. That’s awesome but it all feels very focused on this specific community and these specific people, which makes the idea of leaving scary and SO hard. Will we be able to continue to live in the same way when we lose our group dynamic? Is everything going to change? Yes. It hard, but when we leave it won’t be the same again. However, that doesn’t mean we have to forget everything we’ve learned here.
Dave: We are all going to have completely different futures. We all have different plans: ecologists, authors, engineers, teachers, pilots, park rangers, and many of us are still completely undecided. It seems impossible that with such different goals we will all use the skills we’ve gained from the community. But if you think about it, peaceful communication will be useful in any career. Conversational skills will always help you make friends. And open-mindedness and willingness to adapt are important in any setting. We can’t take this community with us. But we CAN take what we’ve learned from this community with us. And we will.
Elaine: We are SO thankful that we have been given the opportunity to learn these lessons. We all want to thank our parents and families for trusting us to experience a semester living away from home while we are still in High School. It’s been hard at times for all of us and for you but we’ve learned so much and will always be grateful for the freedom you’ve given us. Thank you so much!
Dave: We also want to thank everyone here at Conserve School for making this semester so amazing. The grad-fellows and teachers and administration have been involved in our lives every single day. Not many people would be willing to adapt their lifestyle to include a group of 44 teenagers we just want to acknowledge we know that and are so thankful.
Elaine: There are a lot of people on campus who help us out every single day even though we don’t necessarily spend face to face time on a daily basis. Campus Services works so hard to keep this place beautiful and it really is. Hopefully we haven’t been too hard to clean up after and thank you so much for this amazingly beautiful campus.
Dave: Once again, we might not be able to take this community home with us, but we can take what we’ve learned home with us. Thank you for wonderful semester.