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The North Cascades Institute 2017 Naturalist Team

April 5th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Last month we welcomed the 2017 naturalist team to the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. A mixture of new and returning faces, these naturalists are an integral part of our community here in the mountains. Throughout the spring and fall, they will work alongside our graduate M.Ed. residency students, teaching students across the state participating in our Mountain School program. In the summer months, naturalists will also lead summer expeditions with Youth Leadership Adventures and various educational activities offered in many of our Learning Center programs.

As you will soon find out, this group of talented individuals bring many gifts and experiences with them. We look forward to all that they have to share this upcoming season in the North Cascades.

Evan Holmstrom (Lead Naturalist)

Hailing from the little-known Alaskan burg of Chugiak, Evan is an artist, naturalist, hobby multi-culturalist and outdoor frolicker. His childhood included time on the tundra, amid his father’s falcons and on the sports field. Moving into young adulthood Evan developed his language and art skills, travelling to Japan, Korea, and Mexico, all the while nursing a relationship to the Earth. Upon graduation from college at the University of Montana in Japanese Language, he took his completely predictable next step working in the outdoors.

His position as a field leader for the Wilderness Institute sent him into the austere backcountry and Wilderness of Montana, leading volunteers and college students. He moved into experiential and environmental education of high schoolers with Ecology Project International before feeling inspired to come out to the North Cascades and confirm his long-lived suspicion that the lichen-adorned, moss-engulfed cedars and sword ferns speak to a special place in his soul.

His position this year as Senior Naturalist, amid the spectacular team at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), is a terrific opportunity for him to share experiences, mentor other educators and help ensure that everybody is set up for success. Look for him smiling in the company of naturalists, graduate students, ELC staff or nestled into a forest tussock treating his ears to the pure, flutelike song of the varied thrush.

Natascha Yogachandra

Born in Hong Kong and raised in western New York, Natascha found early passions for reading, writing and dance. She moved to India at age 12 and to Thailand at age 14, after establishing an educational nonprofit with her parents as a result of the 2004 tsunami. She later returned to her native state to receive a degree in journalism and anthropology at New York University. Shortly after graduating, Natascha ventured down to Southern Patagonia, where she managed community partnerships for an environmental fund based in Torres del Paine National Park and its gateway community. Deeply inspired by those she met there in the outdoor field, she found her way to the Pacific Northwest and has been mesmerized by these mountains ever since. After serving as a trail crew leader for high school students with the Student Conservation Association in Alaska, Natascha grew more intentional with her environmental work pursuits and knew they needed to include working with youth. In came North Cascades Institute! She loves the community and the work she has found here and stays busy by exploring her new home on foot or in books.

» Continue reading The North Cascades Institute 2017 Naturalist Team

Highway reopened, students safely back home!

March 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

UPDATE March 13, 4 pm: After WSDOT successfully reopened one lane of Highway 20 today, the Henry M. Jackson high school students, teachers and parent chaperones were able to leave the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center to return home!

More updates later, but for now we want to say thank you to the great students, teachers and parents, to WSDOT and to our Environmental Learning Center staff for keeping everyone safe and sane with educational activities, community building and fun through this unexpected long weekend of Mountain School!

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Wilderness Awareness School and Islandwood: Graduate Exchange Weekend

February 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The North Cascades Institute has a Graduate Residency program where Western Washington University students live and learn at the Environmental Learning Center located near Diablo, Washington for a full year. Currently the Institute’s 15th cohort (C15) is doing their residency as part of their Master’s in Outdoor Environmental Education.

This idea of a dedicated year of learning for future Environmental Educators is not unique to North Cascades Institute. Back in January my cohort and I hosted three other residential higher education programs at the Environmental Learning Center. We spent the weekend sharing about what we did with Mountain School and our residency in the mountains of the North Cascades. This month it was our turn to go down valley and visit the similar programs of

 

Wilderness Awareness School (WAS):

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WAS’s Cedar Lodge.

Founded in 1983, the Wilderness Awareness School (located in Duvall, Washington)  the goal of the organization is to “to provide opportunities for children to discover the natural world around them, and for adults to explore, gain confidence in, and reconnect with the environment.” They do this through a variety of programs that involve over 2000 students every year. Their Anake Leadership Program is designed to build on what students have learned over their time at school and develop them as leaders in Outdoor Education.

» Continue reading Wilderness Awareness School and Islandwood: Graduate Exchange Weekend

Conversation at Curriculum for the Bioregion 2016

Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad’s Perspective

February 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Living at the Environmental Learning Center near Diablo, WA changes how we approach everyday decisions. Little trips, for instance, turn into a three day down valley adventure! This last weekend the 15th graduate cohort (along with a few from the 14th) traveled to two conferences in three days: Storming the Sound and Curriculum for the Bioregion.

Our first leg of the journey had us hit the road at 6 am from Diablo. After so many wilderness journeys with my cohort it was strange to see what “gear” changed and what didn’t with this adventure into civilization. No tents. No trekking poles. But some still packed in their hiking backpacks! After a few hours travel along SR 20, we arrived in La Conner.

First Leg Labled

First leg of our three day trip. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Storming the Sound is an “annual conference for environmental educators in the north Pudget Sound region.” Since 2000 in Padilla Bay Reserve, the event has brought environmental organizations, teachers and students together to not only learn from one another but to better connect the environmental education field in the Puget Sound region. There were thirty one sponsor organizations this year which gave us graduate students a great view of how strong the environmental education presence is in this region. This year’s event was held in Maple Hall in La Conner, WA.

» Continue reading Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad’s Perspective

Copper Peak And Glacier Peak, Looking To The Southwest

Hope Within Wildness

January 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Written as an essay for the Conservation Psychology class at Western Washington University.

“In wildness lies the hope of the world.” John Muir

Today, our world faces many problems that can seem overwhelming and almost too much to bear. In a world facing issues such as climate change, terrorism, racism, poverty, hunger, etc it is easy to become distraught. When we are exposed to multiple media sources each day and countless advertisements we start to lose the ability to cope and think for ourselves. Far more dangerous than any social or environmental issue are the issues of ignorance and apathy plaguing society. In the world of environmental work the weight of these issues can become overbearing and lead to anxiety, depression and a sense of helplessness that prevents us from doing our work effectively. It is important in times like these that we do not lose hope. Hope is the antidote to apathy, and when apathy is eliminated ignorance can be as well.

In this paper I will discuss how hope might be our greatest weapon to defeating our world’s problems today and how we can prevent a sense of hopelessness when society tells us there is none remaining. I will discuss how we must look to wildness for inspiration and how in wildness some of our hope can be restored. Spending time in nature and preserving our wild areas can foster hope in a seemingly hopeless world. It is important that people in environmental work are able to find success stories and sources of inspiration to restore their hope so they can in turn fight apathy and ignorance and restore hope within others.

Unfortunately, studies indicate that learning about global problems can trigger profound feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and hopelessness (Eckersley, 1999; Hicks & Bord, 2001; Holden, 2007; Searle & Gow, 2010; Taber & Taylor, 2009; Tucci, Mitchell, & Goddard, 2007). It is important then that we seek out sources of hope and inspiration to help guide us and keep us motivated in challenging times. It can be difficult to find these sources, especially in environmental work. “Conservationists live with a high degree of negative emotional experience as part of their daily awareness of the problems that ensue from human degradation of the natural environment…Prophecies of a doomed planet may not only miss their intended audience but may also cause extreme emotional distress among those working in environmental advocacy” (Fraser et al, 2013).

According to Cheryl Hall, “ Gloom and doom foster despair and resistance, they worry instead of hope and motivate to change” (Hall, 2013). Stress in environmental work is rooted in knowledge and beliefs, specifically with environmental loss (Clayton & Myers, 2009). It is important then that people in environmental work find some stories of environmental gain and success to rekindle hope. Finding success stories that they can grasp on to and keep them motivated is vital to eliminate feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. Even in bleak times such as these, stories and symbols of hope do exist. Success stories associated with the endangered species act and the preservation of wilderness are stories that, when looked at correctly, can rekindle our sense of hope to keep us motivated amongst the doom and gloom.

» Continue reading Hope Within Wildness

Seattle Times cover

North Cascades Institute in The Seattle Times: “Mountain School makes the magic of the wilderness real for kids”

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled with The Seattle Times‘ story on Mountain School, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and the Institute’s 30 years of environmental education in the North Cascades. It appeared as the cover story in the Times‘ Pacific Northwest Magazine on August 9, 2015 and features a wealth of amazing photos, many quotes from MS students and teachers and an interview with our founder and executive director Saul Weisberg.

 

“DO NOT LET the sly grin fool you. Nika Meyers is not joking around.

Out here amid the firs and ferns and tiny birds and devil’s club above Diablo Lake, she makes certain things clear to her young charges. Today’s lesson on getting in touch with the earth? It’s not some cute metaphor. It is exactly that: On your knees, boys and girls. Right down there with the spiders and rotting leaves and — Holy Crap! Is that a centipede?
This is how it’s done at Mountain School: One pair of happy, grubby, fifth-grade paws at a time. Multiply by 2,800 kids from 53 schools this year alone, stir, and enjoy.

The concept behind the school, run by nonprofit North Cascades Institute, sounds simple: In a three-day mountain camp experience, imbue in school children a visceral connection with this special place — the thumping, mountainous heart of Northwest wilderness. Make its magic real to them at a micro level, in the hope that some of them will feel the pull to return as powerfully as a salmon headed home to spawn. Slip into their consciousness rudimentary skills of a naturalist — the ability to observe and make the same personal connections to other wild lands.

Oh: Also do this without boring the amped-up, digitally dependent kids out of their skulls.

Mountain School still represents what Saul Weisberg espoused from the beginning: A chance for Northwest kids to get out in nature — many of them spending nights away from home for the first time — and go home with mountain air embedded in their hearts. While the Institute’s unofficial mission has always been to “save the world,” it’s official task is to put people and nature together and stand back in awe watching what happens. It can’t happen without the dirty hands.”

 

Read Ron Judd’s excellent story on our Mountain School program at www.seattletimes.com!

And watch a 4-minute video by Steve Ringman at http://bcove.me/5b5mbuaz!

hemlock and doug fir

Op Ed: The Education of an Environmental Educator

September 4th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Editor’s note: Mountain School is about to start back up for its fall season! After teaching two seasons and hundreds of students last year, I thought a lot about how the field of environmental education might be even more useful to participants and the world at large.

It was quite an event, the day the Great Spirit handed out cones to all the trees in the forest. Red alder was given a tiny bouquet of them, befitting its important role as a quick and efficient pioneer in new forests as a nitrogen-fixing species. Douglas fir was bestowed with robust, two-inch long ones. They were decorated with characteristic “mouse tails”, like celebratory ribbons trailing between each thumbnail-sized scale. They provided a main source of food for the squirrels that scampered through the forest. Western hemlock, however, was impatient and pushed its way to the front of the line, eager for the best cones. As punishment for hemlock’s haste, the Great Spirit gave it the smallest cones in the forest. Feeling forever badly about being chastised, hemlock hung its head in shame.

Though I am unsure of this story’s origins, it has undoubtedly evolved over the years as a tale that environmental educators in the Pacific Northwest often share. It is a way to remember, amidst all the trees in the dense forest, that Western hemlocks are the ones possessing small cones and a drooping leader.

Here is another version, adapted from a re-vamping by graduate student and co-editor of Chattermarks, Elissa Kobrin. Her story is different, but still told with the goal of leaving learners with the ability to distinguish common local trees. It begins similarly, with red alder and Douglas fir receiving their cones. Both trees wanted to be the first ones in the forest, and to shoot up toward the sky faster than all the others. Western hemlock, however, waited patiently in line. This patience represents hemlock’s role in the forest community as one of the last species in forest succession, for it thrives in the shade of the canopy other, faster growing species. Hemlock was given cones that, though comparatively small, are very ornate and beautiful, like the rosebuds of the forest. Its head, or “leader”, is always bent over to get a better look at its tiny, pretty cones.

hemlock cone K. RenzA macro rendition of the 3/4″ tall hemlock cone, at home amidst the miniature world in a bed of moss. Note the chartreuse pollen that settled in the scales, details that make the natural world go round. Photo by author.

Which story do you prefer? When I first heard the former, I immediately thought, “Wow, I will never tell this story to students.”  Was I just being overly sensitive, another stringently politically correct tree-hugger quibbling over words? In one sense, the first story is simply an engaging way to remember why a hemlock has a drooping leader and small cones. But in the context of a world where shame and bullying are rampant, and shadow who children become as adults, could it also serve, even in a slight way, to perpetuate the idea of lifelong self-denigration and insecurity? That small is bad, and we are expected to atone for our mistakes for the entirety of our lives?

Such reservations are not to advocate for sheltering our children from reality. We graduate students-slash-Mountain School instructors often discuss, with a lot of concern, the tendency over the last 30 years or so towards “protecting” children from anything deemed negative or risky in this world of unknowns. Even something as intrinsic as play, for example, has been made scary and restricted.

Yet as an editor who has been steeped in media criticism, it is hard to ignore the messaging we’re bombarded with from all directions, even from stories told in the woods. Reinforcing ideologies and paradigms that I consider part of the problem, especially in an ecologically-minded community in which we’re constantly emphasizing the interconnectivity of everything, is problematic. Words are powerful. Looking at all the way we teach kids, both explicitly and implicitly, is fundamental.

Admittedly, it is a little hard for me to write this. I really don’t want to seem uptight, and such reservations prompt me to feel a mite self-conscious and embarrassed. At the same time, though, it baffles me that we are not more self-critical sometimes.

Holly Hughes closeupA fifth grade Mountain School group is an engaged audience as instructors help them “travel back in time” to when Native Americans gathered Hozomeen chert, cured skin ailments with Douglas fir pitch and traveled through the North Cascades via Cascade Pass. Photo by Molly Foote.

» Continue reading Op Ed: The Education of an Environmental Educator