SOLE’s Youth Advocate Making a Difference

What was your favorite part of SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program?

Working with kids was definitely my favorite part of SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program. Coming from a family that is so passionate about the outdoors, it’s difficult to see kids who don’t have that background and aren’t from families that have those same values. That’s why it’s so special to work with those kids because it allows me to introduce the outdoors to them and get to share those values with them.

SOLE Youth Advocate and Field Instructor, Erin Meek in the snowpit frontloading information for their field notebooks.  Photo Credit:  Dennison Webb

What qualities do you think it takes to make a good SnowSchool Field Instructor at SOLE?

Flexibility is a crucial quality to thrive as a Field Instructor at SOLE. It’s easy to stick to what you know, especially when you become comfortable with a group of students or a set of teaching material, but having different kids each day requires you to be flexible in your leadership and teaching methods. I also think that communication and delegation of tasks are vitally important as an instructor. My leadership style is to control tasks and situations and I tend to want to take on all the tasks, but I learned to trust my team and know that we all are going to accomplish the work that needs to be done. We built off of each other’s strengths and encouraged each other through their weaknesses, and I think that having mutual respect along with love and support for our team was what allowed us to thrive and grow together.

How did SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program allow you to grow as a leader?

SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program allowed me to gain independence and confidence as a leader. My biggest weakness is confidence when it comes to leadership situations. Typically I have sustained a supporting leadership role in other aspects of my life, and was used to being a co-leader, but SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program pushed me into a central leadership role. This allowed me to become confident. I learned that being a leader doesn’t mean you have to do things perfectly. Our team brought leadership down to a human-level where it’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing the best that you can every day. We all came from different backgrounds and all with different strengths. Some of us with science backgrounds, some teaching, some recreation, and all our different backgrounds and personality traits shined in different ways. It made me feel like I brought something to that table as a leader in my own way.

Erin showing that sometimes you got to get “creative” in the field when teaching!  Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

What do you feel was the most challenging aspect of working as an Field Instructor?

Learning and mastering the material and getting the hang of the routine of the day was the most challenging part for me. I think it’s easy to get comfortable talking about the same things each time, but because we always mixed up the tasks of who was teaching what, it required me to broaden my understanding of all the aspects of SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program. I needed a wide range of knowledge, spanning from tree identification to snowpit protocol, to classroom topics, and have the ability to answer student questions along the way. I had to learn how to explain complex topics to young students and modify my answers for a specific audience of 5th graders. This was challenging because I didn’t want to over or under explain subjects.

5th-grade SnowSchool Experience students thrive when they are exposed to SOLE’s rich and rigorous place-based, experiential education.  Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

What do you value about outdoor experiential education?

I think that experiential education, especially in the outdoors is absolutely phenomenal! The best way to experience anything is through hands-on learning and kids learn so much through being outdoors. I did my senior project on the importance of recess for students and how much it truly matters for developing brains. Kids learn important social skills, and outdoor activities encourage and morph social experiences. Outdoor experiences dramatically improve performance in the classroom and reduce the distracted behavior. SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program brings that experience one step further, by adding education to outdoor recreation. Students are able to touch, feel, and hypothesize about their environment, and use science to explore those curiosities. They learn how to be apart of a team; how to take care and watch out for one another in a potentially harsh environment, and how to make sure that everyone is included and cared for. I saw kids helping one another in real ways by offering granola bars to other students that are hungry and cold. These kinds of programs are what plant the seed for kids to acknowledge the value and importance of our local mountains and how they affect our daily lives.

Students love Erin’s energetic and fun-loving apporach both in and out of the field! Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

Did SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program assist with providing experience for you to fulfill your career goals?/What will you take away from this experience?

I strive to one day become a child counselor and my experience with SOLE helped me to learn how to establish relationships with students. Even in the short amount of time I got to spend with the kids it was easy to see which students were living in low income and poverty households. It was those kids that I really tried to reach out to and make sure they had a good experience at SnowSchool. It made me realize that although Sandpoint is small, it is very socioeconomically diverse and it became very apparent when working with students from all around the district and I developed a strong sense of empathy about it as a leader. I learned how to work with young kids, as well as how to work with adults from different walks of life. Our daily debriefs taught me how to be honest with my teammates in a healthy and constructive way. I will definitely carry those skills as I continue on my career path.

What is your favorite snow crystal?

Stellar dendrites and plates!

Through her formal education and passion for the outdoors, Erin served as SOLE’s Youth Advocate & Intern Field Instructor for SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program during the winter 2018-2019 season.  Erin plans on attending the University of Montana in Missoula; studying Cognitive Neuroscience and Social Work, working to become a Clinical Counselor.

Interested in becoming a Youth Advocate or Field Instructor?  Contact us today or apply here.

My SnowSchool Experience: a Field Instructor’s look into one of SOLE’s transformational place-based experiential education programs

 

SOLE’s intentional experiential curriculum allows students to tap into various memory pathways greatly enhancing learning comprehension.  Photo Credit:  Dennison Webb

My goals as an environmental scientist are to provide accurate and relevant information to the community about our local ecosystems and I was able to do just that by teaching in the field and teaching in the classroom through SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program. My passion for mountain environments is what drives me to be an active member of environmental conservation efforts through work that promotes healthy, sustainable ecosystems, and the opportunity to work directly with young students in the community provided me the ability to utilize my education, experience, and passion the environment in a productive and effectual way.

SOLE’s well-rounded experiential curriculum allows for students to learn hands-on in the field, which I feel is such a valuable asset for young learners. Experiential education not only opens the door for students to witness first hand an environment they may not be familiar with, but I believe it also provides a sense of relevance and stewardship. Many of the students I worked with this season live in poverty and have never developed a personal relationship with the mountains because of it, and I feel that makes my work that much more important because it gives kids the opportunity to touch, and feel, and experience their own backyard. Snow School opens the door for students to understand that mountains are an important resource for everyone in the community.

Often underserved students struggle in traditional academic settings and may have special needs which need to be accommodated. These students often thrive in SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program.  Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

Working as a field instructor and a classroom teacher for SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program has allowed me to grow in a multitude of ways. Communication was the backbone of all my duties while working with students, and I was able to develop a strong ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with young students with a wide range of learning abilities. My public speaking and presenting skills grew each week as I gained more familiarity and comfortability with the material and I found myself noticing the strength of my teaching increase each week. Classroom management was a struggle for me at first, I had to learn how to manage agroup of up to 30 students in the classroom, and up to 10 in the field while maintaining a safe and engaging experience. This meant that I had to learn techniques to be a good leader and I had to question myself about what kind of leader I wanted to be. I found myself asking “what do I value in a leader?”, “what kind of leader do I want to be?”, and “how can I become a better leader?”. The answers to these questions gained more and more clarity with each group of students I taught. Each group had unique individual needs and it taught me how to be dynamic in my leadership based off what the students needed from me. I learned to embrace flexibility in my methods and I believe that will be a valuable skill that I’ll carry with me throughout my life.

SOLE SnowSchool Experience Field Instructor, Maggie Neer “frontloading” what snow science experiments students will do in the snowpit.  Photo Credit: Dennison Webb

My experience at SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program has been one that is full of personal and professional growth. I’ve developed strong leadership and teaching skills and fostered a friendship with local teachers and schools that’s allowed me to integrate into the education community. I feel that I’m leaving this season on a very positive note. I have new friends, a new community, new field and classroom skills, and a new outlook on leadership and education. I’m confident that these skills and connections will help me as I continue to pursue my career as an environmental scientist!

~ Maggie Neer, 2018 SOLE SnowSchool Field Instructor

To learn more about SOLE’s award-winning and nationally-recognized SnowSchool Experience program click here.

Interested in being an Intern or fully-fledged SnowSchool Experience program Field Instructor?  Click here.