Outdoor Education Training Sesh

Waskowitz Lunch

Saturday morning I awoke up at 6:30am to drive forty miles east on I-90 to Camp Waskowitz.  Waskowitz is the former site of an FDR/New Deal Forest Service Civilian Conservation Corps camp, purchased by the Highline School District in 1958, and transformed into an outdoor education school that’s served Seattle-area youth for over fifty years.

Monday March 28th, I am taking all seven of my 6th graders to Waskowitz for a week spent immersed in their tried and true outdoor education curriculum.  After completing this training weekend, I am now qualified and prepared to teach about fifteen hours of this curriculum.  I was told I can bring my fishing gear.  The lessons I chose from their provided materials will focus on water ecology/chemistry, tree and plant identification, and forest service history.  We will also dally in outdoor survival skills and animal tracking, and perhaps experiment with some charcoal drawing and sculpture if so inspired.  The remaining lessons will be taught by qualified and engaging naturalists and biologists.  When not getting back to nature, the kids will be subjected to a real-deal summer camp experience complete with song-singin’, folk dancing, and militarily precise meal and wake-up times.  Sunday morning I woke up to an amplified bugle recording.  Looking at the dorms where the students were staying reminded me of a Friday the 13th movie.  Waskowitz recruits high school students from Highline and other local districts to serve as counselors during the week.  These high school kids earn community service credit and gain valuable leadership experiences participating in the outdoor school.  The program is a win-win for all those involved.

My training was with a dozen other teachers who would also be bringing their students to the camp outdoor school this spring.  They were from all over the Seattle-area.  Teachers from the Lake Washington School District, Des Moines, Covington, and myself.  We were all coming in different weeks throughout the spring and will likely never see one another again.  We arrived at 8:30am yesterday, and ended the day at 11:30pm singing songs around a campfire with the Waskowitz staff and 40+ high school kids.  It was a long day.  There are four other schools coming to Waskowitz the week I am bringing my students, and I was informed that they’re all Catholic schools.  All start with a St. Something.  I have already told my students to expect this, and none of us know what to expect.

On Saturday, all of us teachers planned lessons for our week at camp, asked lots of questions, toured the facilities, had sporadic interactions with high school students entrenched in their own leadership training, ate organized and polite meals, asked more questions, watched lessons being modeled, square danced, asked even more questions, and sang the opening song at late night campfire time.  The song was about a river and had arm/hand movements.

Sunday, we ate a giant breakfast of pancakes and delicious sausages before setting out for a hike.  It was the best hike I had been on in years.  Highlights included a forest fire lookout tower that was purchased by Waskowitz for $1 from the USFS, and moved in two pieces via helicopter to the location we found it at.  Jack Kerouac spent a summer in one of these towers, monitoring lightning strikes and writing Desolation Angels.  This reminded me of when I received English credit for reading and reporting on beatnik writers at off-campus high school.

I have the combination to the padlock on the lookout's door.

Overall a great, exhausting weekend, and I can’t wait to bring my students there.  There are more pictures of the hiking trails and of my training at Waskowitz posted here, and I’ll be sure to take more in three weeks when I take my students.  Although the snow added a great element to all we saw, I’m hoping that in three weeks spring will be putting on a show up there, and that the Snoqualimie River will be full of fish and raging from snow melt.