Coming soon….A Mountain Field Campus for Local Youth

High 5 Grant brings SOLE one step closer to providing an enclosed and permanent location from which to educate and empower underserved rural youth through the transformational experiential and outdoor education programs it provides.

June 24th, 2019 — Underserved rural youth in Bonner County and beyond will soon have a Mountain Field Campus where they will be able to explore and learn about their winter wildlands and the greater Lake Pend Oreille Watershed.  Leading the charge is Sandpoint-based, Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education (SOLE). SOLE’s effort has been generously supported by various local and regional partners, including the recent addition of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health and the City of Sandpoint with a  grant award of $28, 413.64. Through support from the High Five Community Transformation Grant, SOLE is one step closer to completing a major $70,000 fundraising campaign to establish a Mountain Field Campus at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. This will serve as a hub to educate and empower our underserved local area youth through outdoor physical activity.  

A SnowSchool Experience program student studies snow science to include completing a snow pit profile and studying crystallography.

“It is our vision that this community multi-use facility will serve as an outdoor learning center to educate and empower our underserved local area youth through purposeful place-based experiential and outdoor education programs which utilize mountain-based outdoor recreation as the mode of travel.” ~ Dennison Webb, MA | Founder & Executive Director 

In addition to the previously mentioned partners, SOLE has garnered support from local business, agencies, and corporations to ensure that our local area youth have affordable access to the intentional experiential education programs that SOLE offers.  These partners have included, Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Bonner General Health, Kochava, Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters, The William Wishnick Foundation, Panhandle Alliance for Education, Innovia Foundation, Equinox Foundation, and Lake Pend Oreille School District, along with the contributions of many generous personal donors. With continued support, SOLE’s will not only reach their fundraising goal, but they will also be able to actualize their vision of providing affordable and accessible experiential education programming for underserved local youth throughout the year.  You can get involved and learn more about this community effort by contacting SOLE at info@soleexperiences.org | 928.351.7653 or by making a tax-deductible donation to SOLE’s Mountain Field Campus Campaign here.

Students snowshoe with their Field Instructor Team to into their winter wildlands.

Since 2010, SOLE has been focused on providing intentional and transformational experiential education programs for youth in the Sandpoint community, and beyond. SOLE’s programs have reached well-over 3,000 underserved rural youth, most notably through SOLE’s signature program – SnowSchool Experiences.  In partnership with the Boise-based nonprofit, the Winter Wildlands Alliance, SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program provides novel, on the snow, hands-on outdoor experiences, where students are able to explore and learn in their winter wildlands through lessons related to snow science, winter ecology, conservational literacy, avalanche awareness, and outdoor living and travel skills.   While there are 66 SnowSchool sites nationwide, SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program at Schweitzer was recognized as a National Flagship SnowSchool Site in 2017, becoming only the second site to receive this designation. In addition to this prestigious recognition, SOLE  earned regional accolades in 2017, when it’s SnowSchool Experience program received an Innovation Award from the Idaho Nonprofit Center for its innovative approach to education, specifically its novel E-STEM place-based experiential education curriculum.  

SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program receives the 2017 Innovation Award from the Idaho Nonprofit Center. Shown here is SOLE’s Executive Director (Dennison Webb, MA, Center Left); SOLE’s Education Advisor and Board Member (Joy Jansen, PhD, Center Right), and partners PAFE Board Member (Geraldine Lewis, Left) and Innovia Foundation staff member (Molly Sanchez, Right)

Learn more about SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program by watching the video below and going to SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program webpage here.

SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program which was highlighted in the 2017-2018 Winter Wildlands Backcountry Film Festival. This was the first time a SnowSchool program was highlighted in the world-renowned film festival which makes over 100 stops world-wide.

Initially, The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health awarded a Community Transformation Grant to the City of Sandpoint to fund projects that encourage healthy eating and physical activity for children.  The $250,000 grant was awarded from High Five, the Foundation’s childhood obesity initiative. The allocation of the grant funds was determined by the Bonner County Coalition for Health, which partnered with the Foundation to identify projects that supported either increased physical activity and access to healthy, affordable foods.  SOLE is extremely grateful to have been selected as one of the recipients of the High Five Grant. 

Stay tuned for SOLE’s progress in establishing the Mountain Field Campus at Schweitzer Mountain and news regarding how the local youth are utilizing and benefiting from it.

One Step Further…

As we take a look at our summer experiences thus far, we are excited to share some of the strides our Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) LEAD Experience students have made!  For the past two years, SOLE has partnered with Lake Pend Oreille School District and Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to offer this tailored program for students that qualify for Vocational Rehabilitation services throughout Idaho.  Here’s a snapshot of what this novel SOLE Experience is all about.

At the beginning of this past June, five young adults began their journey toward becoming leaders. Nestled in the beautiful mountains of Washington, Chewelah Peak Learning Center provided a perfect outdoor classroom for this group of students to thrive.

This program’s focus was to encourage students to take on leadership roles and to provide a space for them to push through personal challenges.

When we began, two girls participating in this program, Jaiden and Kayana, only knew each other in passing. They had seen each other around school, but always traveled in different crowds. By lights-out on day one, they were up giggling and talking about how crazy it is that they hadn’t become friends sooner! We loved watching their friendship build throughout the week.

Mid-way through the program we asked the girls a few questions about their experience.

What is your favorite part of the program so far?

Both of the girls really loved the challenge course. The challenge course involved both low and high elements that required critical thinking and team building exercises to move onto the next feature. This helped them grow confidence in themselves and trust in the group as a whole.

Kayana noted that her favorite part was not only this activity but also her ability to become more confident in herself and her leadership skills. She was excited to share that she and Jaiden had been chosen as leaders for the final hike at the end of the program (and what a great accomplishment it was!). She shared that she typically has a shy personality, so having the opportunity to practice leadership and responsibility in the group really strengthened her confidence.

Here, Jaiden and Kayana are setting up their map and utilizing their compass to create a route up the mountain. These two girls did an incredible job navigating the group up Goddard Peak!

What has been the most challenging part of the program so far?

Jaiden expressed that the most challenging part of the program was trusting other people to complete a task without stepping in and taking the lead. She was used to learning through doing, so allowing others to take the lead and figure out how to overcome a group challenge was not easy at first.

Kayana’s most challenging experience was navigating different personalities and learning to speak up when her needs were not being met. This experience has given her the confidence to take some deep breaths and confront challenges instead of shying away from them.

What advice would you give to a future student participating in this program?

Jaiden’s greatest piece advice was to “do the program!” This was her second year participating in SOLE’s LEAD experience and she emphasized how influential this experience was for her both in school and the workforce.

During the program, the challenge course instructor spoke about how everyone has this “bubble” called your comfort zone. His challenge to the group was to try to expand that zone by taking just one step past where you think you cannot go any further. Jaiden explained that this metaphor translated perfectly into real-life situations and she was glad to have practiced it.

Kayana echoed this piece of advice. She encourages others to take that one step further because “it makes you feel so amazing afterward and makes you… thrive. It makes you want to do it even more!”  

We are so proud of graduates of SOLE’s LEAD Vocational Rehabilitation program!

If you or your young adult is interested in this program, or want to design your own LEAD Experience please contact us! We are happy to answer any questions and explain our curriculum to you!  Contact us at: info@soleexperiences.org.

Hope to see you out there,

Krystal Walsh
SOLE Outreach Coordinator | Intern Field Instructor

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.

Why should you ‘Plan Ahead & Prepare’

The backcountry is as unpredictable as it gets.  Like other remote regions throughout the United States, living and traveling in the backcountry of the Inland Northwest often results in interacting with the dynamic nature of the land we are traveling within.  These factors are delivered from experiencing unpredictable weather patterns, possible wildlife encounters, forging swift cold rivers, traversing in avalanche terrain, navigating wildfires, missing rock fall, and so many other factors – all of which are simply out of our control.  All we can do, is use the skills we have developed and our best judgment to not be irresponsible or complacent.  The beauty in that which we might fear are the lifelong lessons that these moments create.  In fact, it’s why we go out there to RE-create, and furthermore, it’s why SOLE uses these environs as our preferred classroom setting.   It is in these novel educational settings SOLE participants are provided real challenges, with real consequences and as a result are able to truly develop personal character and grit, while simultaneously providing opportunity for those we serve to master outdoor skill and leadership competencies.

Because of the stated unknowns, as our partners at The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Skills and Ethics often say, it’s best to Plan Ahead and Prepare for what may arise.  Many outdoor enthusiast do not adequately prepare before venturing out. Best case scenario, they become a case study for us to consider to not repeat the same mistakes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end well.

Why should we Plan Ahead and Prepare?

Wildfires are unpredictable and may require signifcant re-routing. Photo credit: Inciweb

Let’s investigate further based on a recent article from Rich Landers of The Spokesman-Review that underscores the “why”and serves as an excellent case study.  Click here to read the article for a personal account of being unprepared in the backcountry.

As we can see, more than 100 individuals were trapped, uprepared in what could have been a potential deadly situation.  As luck would have it, there was someone that did have military training, cell phone coverage, and a smart phone application all of which assisted in getting the group out safely. What would have occured had the technology failed and/or they not had the leadership to assist them?  Obviously, the outcomes would have been much more chatostrophic.  So that is why, when dealing with any backcountry environment we need to Plan Ahead and Prepare, so we can thrive, not just survive.

 

How to ‘thrive’ not just survive…

First, let’s take a look at the 4 considerations that are critical to any backcountry user.

  1. Create and use a Travel Plan.
  2. Understand what to do when lost.
  3. Utilize an effective layering system.
  4. Pack the 13 Essential

Knowing how to use a topo map and compass is essential for any backcountry user – especially when technology fails.

Simply put, a Travel Plan IS your first line of defense.  It let’s folks know where you are going, and how long you will be there, and when you will return.  When heading out to the backcountry it’s always a good idea to leave a plan of your trip with friends or families.

Good info to include in the Travel Plan:

  1. Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) – when you are leaving.
  2. Destination – include trail numbers, road access, etc.
  3. Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) – when you are returning back.
  4. Copy of Route – include maps as appropriate.

What should I pack?  

Along with the 13 essentials (see below), but also appropriate clothing and gear to deal with inclement weather should the need arise. Layering systems are the norm for backcountry travellers consisting of largely polypropylene and wool clothing fabrics as the go-to. Yes, even though it’s hot during the day and it’s summer you can STILL get hypothermic.  An effective layering system can provide effective thermo-regulation allowing the backcountry traveler to stay cool and warm when necessary. It is important to note, cotton is not a great fabric for when the mercury begins to dip and will only serve to strip heat away from your body once wet promoting heat-loss and possibly leading to hypothermia. We will explore heat-loss and how to regulate it effectively in the coming submissions. A good consideration for most days is while it may be hot most summer days, when traveling in the mountains it can go from hot to cold and wet rather quickly.

An effective layering system is a must any time of the year in the backcountry to deal with the cure balls that good ‘ole Mother Nature delivers. Photo Credit: outdoorgearlab.com

Understanding the Layering System…

So, with not know exactly what the weather is going to do, a simple clothing/layering system for your upper and lower body for backcountry excursions throughout the year in mountainous regions should include:

  1. Sun/bug protection (top/bottom). Convertible zip-off pants are great. They provide adequate sun/bug protection and can be zipped off to keep cool when needed. Also, long sleeve button up sun shirts are great for the same reason. Often, some models are vented to be more comfortable in hot weather while also provide adequate coverage. It is also a great idea to consider a sun hat (baseball style or wide-brimmed – the later has better protection), sunglasses with a retaining strap, and most certainly sun block! Like inclement weather, sun itself is a real environmental threat so when venturing out into the backcountry we want to prepare accordingly.
  2. A wicking layer (top/bottom). Lightweight polypropylene is ideal. It’s designed to wick the moisture directly from your skin to the outer layers and dries quickly when wet.
  3. Insulating layer (top). A common mid-weight fleece works well. This layer will serve to trap air and keep you warm when needed. You can find them at most gear shops and even thrift stores. Wool will also work well, which can be found at Army Surplus stores.  You say it’s hot.  What happens when you have to spend the night, and the temps drop.  Yep, it can even snow in the summer in the lower 48.
  4. A waterproof shell (top/bottom). “Rubberized” coated nylon works well when not active; they trap heat when moving versus transferring heat from the body – causing you to sweat. Again, the goal of a layering system is to effectively trap and move heat when necessary. Therefore, we recommend a waterproof-breathable shell layer. Also, it is important to note, there are other options out there on the market that work well besides Gore-Tex, which are far more affordable so we recommend shopping around.
  5. A wool or fleece hat. While it’s a myth that you body loses most of your heat through your head you can transfer a fair amount of heat there if not covered so we recommend throwing one in your pack.

A simple day backpack can provide ample room for all the gear that you will need when things go from bad to worse.

13 Essentials…

The following 13 items should be included in your pack at all times in case of an emergency or if you are unexpectedly caught out overnight.  You may not use all of the essentials on every trip, but they could keep you alive in an emergency.

  1. Topo Map – Let’s face it technology like iPhones and GPS’s are great, but they fail. A topographical map is fail proof method to navigate the backcountry.  Learn how to use the map efficiently or it will add needless weight. Place it in a plastic zip lock bag and carry a pencil to triangulate.
  2. Compass – Get a reliable compass from a name brand like Silva.  Make sure it has  a straight edge.  Know how to use your compass or it is useless weight.
  3. Flashlight – Headlamps are great, but small bright flashlights are sufficient. Make sure you have fresh batteries in your light before you leave and pack enough extra batteries to last your trip.  Many people carry an extra bulb as well.
  4. Knife – Pocket knife, sharpened to your liking.  Multi-tools are great, as are knives with two good blades.
  5. Lighter / Matches – Wooden, strike anywhere matches, waterproofed in a good waterproof container are great.  Lighters can fail if not kept dry.
  6. Fire Starter – Two 3 to 5 inch hard wax candles work well.  In the Inland Northwest we have the great fortune of having birch bark which works great.
  7. Extra Clothing – Bring an extra set of clothing suited to the worst possible conditions you could possibly encounter for the area and time you are visiting.  Including a beanie is a great idea!
  8. Extra Food – High energy foods, such as Power Bars or even a Snicker bar are great.
  9. Water – One liter minimum, and way to treat water is a great idea.
  10. First Aid Kit – There are many good first aid kits available commercially, or you could build one yourself.  Always consider carrying it in a waterproof container.
  11. Sun Protection (sunblock / sunglasses) – Dark lenses with 100% UVA and UVB protection, or nearly so. Zinc oxide or sun block with SPF 15 or higher is preferred.  Waterproof or “sweat proof” sun block recommended.  Don’t forget a sunhat and long sleeve shirts in sunny climates and/or summer seasons.
  12. Emergency Shelter – A small plastic tarp or two large plastic contractor bags will keep the wind and rain off ofyou.
  13. Signal Devices – Many hikers carry a whistle and a mirror.  Discarded CD disks can even make an adequate signaling mirror.  When in survival situation getting found often relies on using other methods beside your voice.

When your lost do the right thing – STOP.

You’re lost, now what?  STOP.

S – top – When you’re lost there is nothing worst that continuing down a route that you “think” may pan out.  It most situations (non-threatening) staying in one location can be best so rescuers can locate you sooner.

T – hink – When you’re in your “reptile brain” it’s pretty easy to go to “fight or flight”.  It’s important to not flip your lid, and stay in your pre-frontal cortex, so you can rationally and logically consider your options at present, and what will be needed to thrive down the road.

O – bserve – Once you are grounded, consider your options.  Do you have enough available resources around you to sustain you and your party, and what can be used?  Are there any actual threats to life or limb which require your immediate attention? What is the best method to signal for rescue?

P – lan – Once you have weighed your options make the most sound plan possible.  Consider all the perceived and actual risks that could result in decisions presented.  When time is available provide ample opportunity to shoot holes in your plan, and re-work to come up with the best plan possible solution that will allow you to thrive until the Calvary arrives.

Backcountry “know-how” goes beyond just having the right gear. You should know how to use it, when, coupled with the right leadership skills. Photo Credit: Seth Quigg

SOLE teaches outdoor living and travel skills such as the ones mentioned here during much of its day-based and expedition-based backcountry programs – in addition we offer stand-alone outdoor skill workshops. For more information on SOLE’s programs and/or to register for an upcoming SOLE Experience go to www.soleexperiences.org or contact us at info@soleexperiences.org or 928.351.SOLE.

See you out there,DennisonTeaching
Dennison Webb, M.A.
Founder | Executive Director

 

A summer of exploring, learning and develop a sense of belonging…

Ten sets of eyes are peeking from behind the trees, and little giggles burst out here and there. We are playing “Camouflage”, which is one of the favorite games for the eleven children in Session III of SOLE’s Junior Naturalist Experience SM summer camp program. Children ages four through ten are hiding in the forest, looking at the game leader, who is trying to spot them.

“I see you, Rhys!” says Sophia, our current leader. Her brother, a bold four-year-old, comes out smiling from behind his favorite hiding spot.

“What type of tree were you just hiding behind, Rhys?”  Rhys smiles and wiggles and tells me that it’s a western red cedar.  I then ask him, “how do you know that?”.

“Because of the bark, and the way the branches bend!” We high-five, and Rhys whispers to his sister that he can see somebody that she didn’t find yet.

The Junior Naturalist Experience SM Program is a 3 to 5 day place-based experiential education program, designed for children between the ages of four to ten to unplug and reconnect outdoors via exploring and learning in their local natural surroundings. Despite the noted age difference you might say – there’s a method behind the madness.  First, Nature Detectives (ages four to six) attend for the first three days, and Nature Explorers (ages seven to ten) come for full five days.  Secondly, I noticed how beautifully intentional how committed the older children were to their roles as leaders and responded towards their younger peers. When given the opportunity to guide, model, and mentor the younger children Nature Explorers blew me away at every turn.  This also, allowed me to come to appreciate the intentionality of SOLE’s program design.

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“We are very grateful for your program, my son LOVED IT and just couldn’t stop talking about what he was doing each day!”  

~ Junior Naturalist Experience Parent, 2017

The purposeful program structure to provide leadership opportunities for youth in the Junior Naturalist Experience SM Program, and all of SOLE’s programs, is just one example of the intentionality of SOLE’s program design that I have come to appreciate.  The other is the purposeful curricula that they use in the field.

Place-based, experiential education lessons are also blended with outdoor free-play. The children aren’t just hearing about their world they are also seeing, feeling and even smelling the wonders of their natural world while forming long-lasting connections between natural science and positive experiences that they actual choose and create for themeselves with peers.  It is through these teachable moments, that allows youngsters to develop and sustain meaningful relationships and lead their own learning while simutaneously satisfying their individual curiosity, allowing each Junior Naturalists SM to have more than just fun in the forest.

That said, having fun is certainly at the heart of the Junior Naturalist Experience SM program. Through structured games and outdoor free play, students are gaining confidence in themselves, developing social and emotional skills, and getting comfortable spending time the natural world. Free play provides opportunities for children to explore and enjoy their environment in their own personal way; fort building is often very popular when providing opportunity for outdoor free-play.

Speaking of which, we have hiked down a favorite resting spot, and a young boy named James calls to his friends, “Hey everyone! Come see my fort!”

Little heads pop up across the forest floor.

“How many people do you think can fit inside?” calls James.

Time to find out! I help the children over one by one, until eleven sets of bright eyes are peeking out at me.

As a summer Field Instructor, I had a wonderful time exploring North Idaho with all of the Nature Explorers and Nature Detectives during SOLE’s 2017 summer season. As an educator, the opportunity to lead creative, place-based experiential education lessons at both Round Lake State Park and the University of Idaho Extension campus was tremendously rewarding.

In closing, I sincerely appreciate SOLE’s dedication to providing quality experiential education pograms, which was evident every step of the way, from the field to the office.  In the future, I hope to see the relationship between SOLE and the Sandpoint community grow ever more cohesive; who knows maybe the Junior Naturalists that I got to explore and play with this summer will go on to enjoy SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience SM program and even the expedition-based summer programs SOLE offers for teens which could even lead to these young adventurers to creating and leading their own programs for SOLE in the future!

SnowSchool Snow Storm!

With the start of spring, the SnowSchool Experience  program season has come to a close. During the 2016-2017 season, this transformational experiential education program served over 591 program participants, including over 494 youth, totaling 3,318 instructional hours! It has been a whirlwind of a season, and the snow was been exceptionally fantastic this year totaling over 215 inches of fresh powder creating a snowpack to remember.

SnowSchool Experience program data from the 2016-2017 winter season.

SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program, is a unique interdisciplinary experiential education program teaching lessons related to outdoor living and travel skills (introductory snowshoeing, avalanche awareness), snow science, watershed conservation and winter ecology.  You can learn more about SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program here.  For those new to SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program you can also watch it in action by checking out our film below,  which was selected as finalist for the 2016-2017 13th Annual Backcountry Film Festival and it’s the first time a SnowSchool program has been highlighted!

5th grades students in Lake Pend Oreille School District create line graphs to compare and contrast fieldwork findings to historical trends. A 5th grade math learning standard.

Middle school student from Clark Fork Junior High School studies snow crystals utilizing a crystal card and magnifying loupe.

True to SOLE’s nature SnowSchool Experience programs are purposefully designed, and usually include (3) distinct experiential programming days, to include (1) day in the classroom to frontload learning objectives and orient students to their new learning environment; (1) day in the field to collect and analyze data, while having some good ‘ole fashion fun, and (1) day back in the classroom to further analyze data and wrap-up their experience.  This intentional design ensure that we are able to meet student objectives and learning targets.

Once in the field, it was a privilege to watch the students’ amazement by the sheer amount of snow that they got to examine and study. Over the course of a day on the snow, 5th – 12th grade youth learned how to complete a snow pit profile to include analyzing storm cycle and weather events, temperature variations in the snowpack, Snow Water Equivalency (SWE), density and hardness of the snowpack.  In addition, they were able to explore and learn about the ecology of their winter wildlands, while connecting those concepts to the health of the ecosystem and watershed. Of course, we could not end the day without proper belly sliding technique and practice, accompanied by a nice hot cocoa.

Students from Clark Fork High School learning and practicing companion rescue as part of an avalanche awareness portion of our SnowSchool Experience program.

Lake Pend Oreille High School Water Chemistry student collecting snow density data in the snowpit during her SnowSchool Experience.

SOLE also continued our middle and high school SnowSchool Experience program with several schools, including Clark Fork Junior / Senior High School, as well as, Lake Pend Orielle High School. SnowSchool Experience curricula at this level includes our novel snow science and avalanche awareness program.  The snow science portion is grounded on a project-based learning framework, know as the The Confluence Project – a comprehensive watershed-based interdisciplinary curricula. Students complete fieldwork related to studying and assessing water conservation needs, to include assessing and analyzing our snowpack.  They then investigate local watershed-based environmental threats and develop a hypothesis and experiment to test their theory.  All findings are presented at the Idaho Youth Water Summit in juried fashion.  In addition, our secondary SnowSchool Experience students participated in avalanche awareness curriculum which included both the Know Before You Go and fieldwork related to assessing the avalanche phenomena, including companion rescue, completing a thorough snowpit profile and stability assessments.

Ruthie and Lance testing out their snow cave.

Another highlight included our expansion of our Weekend SnowSchool Experience program for new field campus sites, and even the continuation of our FREE event for the Sandpoint Winter Carnival – a family-friendly event focuses on winter play and learning about our local winter wildlands.

During Sandpoint’s Winter Carnival we started the cold, crisp day trekking through the deep snow looking for tracks. As we explored, our group found some snowshoe hare prints, a perfect time to play games that highlight winter adaptations of the animals that thrive in the Selkirk winter ecosystem and the habitat where they might live. This of course led us to building our very own habitat – a snow shelter like a snow caves, such as the one pictured on the right.

Did you know that a large number of animals live in the subnivean zone in the Winter? (Sub-Under; Nives-Snow). Learn more at the highly talked about Wild Kratz episode here.

Hope Elementary celebrating some awesome Belly Sliding!

The winter did hold some environmental challenges, but that was overshadowed by the successes! Some highlights of the winter was working with Hope Elementary who had to be rescheduled due to a snow day, and they got a rain day. It was pouring the whole time, but the students had the best attitude, learned a lot and FLEW while belly sliding. The day was full of laughs and learning! We even got to model some “Gucci wear” aka, plastic bags to help keep the rain out. It was a day to remember!

 

 

5th grade students from Ramsey School of Science in the Coeur D’ Alene School District enjoying their plate crystal formation up at our new field campus site at Silver Mountain Resort!

We also brought new schools into the fold this year, including Ramsey School of Science in the Coeur d’Alene School District up at Silver Mountain. The 5th graders had a great time learning about winter ecology and snow science. They really enjoyed looking at the snow crystals and it showed by their life size imitation of some of the crystals they encountered (see image to the right).  The students could also not get enough of the game Camouflage where they mimicked native winter critters like snowshoe hares and ermine’s adaptation to turn white in the winter. Basically a big game of hide and seek. We learned fairly quickly that the neon jacket wearers were almost always spotted first.

Overall, the season was a success! We had a great group of instructors, a happy ensemble of students and a lot of snow to play in.

SOLE Outreach & Events Cooridnator | Field Instructor, Maegan Ward with a 5th grade crew in one of many snowpits during the 2016-2017 season!

A very SOLE-ful THANK YOU to everyone who helps support this transformational experiential education program, including but not limited to our hosts Schweitzer Mountain and Silver Mountain and our sponsors, partners and funders who make this and other SOLE programs possible.  

We look forward to seeing out on the snow next year!

Cheers!
Maegan Ward
Events and Outreach Coordinator | Field Instructor
maegan.ward@soleexpreiences.org

 

Why enroll your child in a summer program with SOLE!

A recent study showed that youth are now spending (9) non-school related hours per day, that’s (63) hours per week connected to a media device1! Add school projects and homework and we are developing a concerning phenomena.   ReWild your child in SOLE’s Junior Naturalist Experience program, or let your teen go on an outdoor adventure of a lifetime in SOLE’s Teen Trek Experience program this summer!  Why? Well let’s take a closer look.

Thanks to brain mapping, we now have evidence that youth and adolescent brains are actually quite sensitive and malleable to external stimuli.  In fact, the adolescent brain has the opportunity to establish essential memory pathways during those years of development, like those related to what are considered executive functions (e.g., higher order processing skills).

Photo credit: Ucla.edu3

During this time, the brain also has the ability to get rid of unnecessary neurons through a process known as neural pruning, which is actually quite similar to getting rid of unproductive limbs on a fruit tee.  As neuroscientist Donald Hebb said, “Neurons that fire together wire together.”2  So, in short, if you don’t use it, you loose it. Because youth are spending an extraordinary amount of time “wired in” to media sources (like social media) they are essentially hard-wiring their brain to function in this fashion, and as a result, expect to receive and process information accordingly.  So you might so so what’s the big deal?

Well, simply put the ‘virtual’ cognitive processes aren’t always applicable in ‘real world’ contexts.  For example, navigating real world problems often requires intellectual flexibility, patience, resilience, and emotional regulation.  When our brains are rewarded in a simple and quick fashion ala ‘how many likes we have’ it presents a false sense of reality – that our end goal is quick and succinct.  This is obviously far from the norm.  Additionally, consider the social deficits that we reinforce as someone continually ‘looks down’ to communicate and relate.  Research is now showing increases in social anxiety, poor communication skills, emotional dysregulation, inattentiveness, and other mental, physical and behavioral health issues all due to being ‘disconnected’ through technology3.  Let’s shift to a cause and effect relationship.

If an animal is constantly fed by humans it becomes habituated – relying on those food sources to sustain their existence.  When released into the wild, they can’t function because they have been conditioned to live a certain way.   The human brain is not much different.  When utilizing technology in an unhealthy fashion, our brain becomes habituated – a creature of habit – expecting to give and receive information a certain way.

Pediatricians, neuroscientists, and youth development experts agree that our youth require diverse and intentional experiences ‘unplugged’ to help them grow into healthy adults.  SOLE’s transformational experiential education programs provides the essential ingredients to explore, achieve, and lead throughout the year.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 Reasons to immerse your child in a natural learning environment with SOLE this summer:

  1. Unplug to reconnect!  Providing an opportunity for your child to take a break from the TV, their smart phone, iPad, and social media accounts allows them to rediscover their creative powers through their natural senses.  This allows them to connect to the real world, with real people, through real activities, and therefore, forge real thoughts and emotions, as well as develop real relationships with others and their environment.
  2. Reconnect with our natural world!  Nature Deficit Disorder is a real condition, which has real consequences.  Summer outdoor experience provides the ideal setting to address nature deficit, and therefore, support  healthy child development.
  3. Develop executive functions!  Can you imagine going on a road trip without a map? Executive functions provide the essential ingredients to plan, organize, problem-solve, and cope when faced with challenges along the way.  SOLE’s summer programs provide the ideal setting for youth to develop these and other executive controls.
  4. Get physically active! As shown in the intro above, youth spend a significant amount of time today just sitting inside, sedentary, and wired-in.  Doing so has a negative impact on personal well-being.  After all, humans were not designed to be sedentary beings.  Through SOLE’s summer programs, and accompanying experiential curricula youth are provided the ideal setting to be physical activity through continuous experiential games and/or activities from start to finish in a fun and engaging fashion allowing the ideal setting to address this deficiency in a novel manner.
  5. Competence yields confidence! SOLE intentionally designs experiential/outdoor education curricula that allows program participants to develop and master outdoor and academic skills while simultaneously building self-confidence and self-esteem through active coaching and a peer-based culture grounded on a safe and positive learning environment.  This provides the ideal setting to take a risk, learn from your failures, and master skills.
  6. Become flexible and resilient! The reality in the ‘real world’ is that it doesn’t always go as we expect it to.  Being successful in life requires that we execute flexibility to adapt to the various stressors that life presents us.  Additionally, it is important that youth develop resilience.  Life chews us up and spits us out sometimes.  The more resilience that we are able to develop in our younger years, the better we are able to endure challenging setbacks.  SOLE’s summer programs provide a healthy dose of challenges that require youth develop these essential skills.
  7. Free time & unstructured play! Picture this.  You hike all day and arrive at a beautiful alpine lake, surrounding by mountains.  Untouched beauty.  In addition, to the other benefits of SOLE’s summer program offerings.  Our programs provide a natural setting to relax, laugh, and make long lasting friendships.  Free time & unstructured play also provide the opportunity for youth to tap into their creative and problem-solving skills which is why we intentionally place this time into our our summer programs, including our Junior Naturalist Experience programs.
  8. Develop meaningful relationships! SOLE’s summer programs provide the ideal setting to develop meaningful relationships with newly found friends, your surrounding natural world, even with yourself.  Our programs provide real world shared experiences without distraction fostering the opportunity to develop sincere and meaningful connections.
  9. Develop essential life skills!  During our programs we often share with our participants — it’s what happens AFTER the SOLE Experience that counts.  In other words, the skills that are mastered and the lessons learned are applicable well-beyond ‘out there’ and can be transferred and generalized into a ‘real world’ setting.  To do so,
  10. Grow independence! – SOLE’s summer programs provide the ideal setting for youth to make their own decisions without parents and teachers in the mix.  Making choices where there is a direct cause and effect relationship can foster independence and related benefits.  SOLE Field Instructors facilitate experiential programs that provide these and other ‘teachable moments’ for program participants.

Oh yeah, it’s good ‘ole fashion fun!

SOLE’s summer programs are uniquely positioned to foster healthy youth development.  SOLE’s summer programs are also the perfect partner for schools, families, youth groups, organizations, agencies, or community centers provide holistic education that yields an increase in personal self confidence and independence, problem-solving and decision-making skills, social and emotional skills, personal and character development – all in positive learning environment under the supervision of positive adult role models with formal experience and education.

So we hope your family will join us this summer as we venture out there!

 

Ready to get started?  Click on one of the SOLE Experiences SM below!

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Dennison Webb, MA
Founder | Executive Director

 

 

Kersting, T. Disconnected: How to reconnect our digitally distracted kids.

https://ottawamindfulnessclinic.com/2010/05/06/neural-pruning/

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/the-teenage-brain-on-social-media

SOLE-Ful Seven Series: An Interview with Erik Olson

img_4549Erik lives in Sandpoint with his wife and 2 kids, a daughter in 1st grade and a son in 2nd. As an active member of this community, Erik is Principal of Farmin Stidwell Elementary School (where all the 5th graders go to SnowSchool) and has been a member of SOLE’s board for a couple years with a strong passion for the outdoors.

 

MW: What brought you to SOLE?
EO: I moved here from Greenbay, Wisconsin, and I grew up where NOLS is (Lander, Wyoming). We used to call them NOLS-ys; they were the tree huggers! When I was asked by Joy to be a part of SOLE, strictly because I was part of the school community, I was staggered by the amount of kids who had never been on Schweitzer, so giving that opportunity to the kids was awesome. It’s interesting too that SOLE has this unique opportunity to give this to the kids, and I like seeing the level of engagement that our kids had with SnowSchool.

MW: What is your favorite part of being in this community? (Sandpoint/N. ID)
EO: I grew up in the outdoors, in the Windriver Range near Lander, WY, and I had outdoor opportunities growing up. I would drive up the mountain and ride my mountain bike whenever I wanted, but the mountains weren’t right there; you had to drive 2 hours to get to them. So I decided with my wife and kids that we wanted to be where we had the opportunities that are available here and now we take advantage as much as we can.

img_4376MW: What is your favorite Outdoor Experience? Most memorable?
EO: I have two, I was the tripping director at a YMCA camp and I was in charge of the offsite trips. Through that experience we had a lot of foreign staffers and I connected with this fellow from Australia, a crazy Australian climber. I was pretty into climbing at the time and growing up in Lander, it was a huge climbing community. He wanted to go climbing and so we road tripped and drove to Devil’s Tower. We slept in my car and then climbed it. It’s technical climbing but I trusted him so much; it took us about 6 hours to climb, 8 hours total. It was a huge experience that I just loved.
The other one was I was involved in scouting, and we had a great, active Boy Scout group. Our leader would give us so many opportunities to go on hikes. I was young, and I had the opportunity to go The Boundary Waters, and it was awesome. We canoed forever.

MW: What is your passion in the outdoors? Favorite recreational activity?
EO: I like it all! Moving here I definitely have taken up skiing, my family we weren’t really avid skiers but took it up. I do a lot of trail running, and from time to time mountain biking. In WY it is cold so in the winter we hunker down, so it’s a nice change of pace. The whole family skis now!

MW: What are you most excited for this season?
EO: I definitely love the SnowSchool piece, I am glad the district is picking up those loose ends because it has been so positive in this community and for those kids. I love that SOLE is getting exposure not only in this community nationally and beyond (because of our film SnowSchool: Exploring our Winter Wildlands being selected as a finalist in the Winter Wildlands Backcountry Film Festival)

img_4645MW: What has been your favorite SOLE experience so far?
EO: Picking up trash! Kidding. No, my kids have been in the Junior Naturalist Program for a couple summers, and when they come home from that experience they want to go back. My daughter was 5 and she didn’t want to go, but after three days she wanted more, and ended up going to the week long program later.
I also love the Backcountry Film Festival. It’s a good chance to expose SOLE and its mission to the public.

MW: Do you have a favorite Deschutes beer? Which one and why?
EO: Mirror Pond Pale Ale is pretty good. Inversion. Fresh Squeezed. It’s all good! I am an IPA guy, so any IPA I am good with.

 

Get to know Erik and the other board members at our SOLE-Ful Meet & Greet: A Pre-Backcountry Film Festival Event. It will be a great opportunity to see what SOLE has lined up for the winter, a chance at a ‘sneak peak’ of our film SnowSchool: Exploring our Winter Wildlands (to be featured in the international Backcountry Film Festival), as well as a look into the phenomenal silent auction and raffle prizes, all while enjoying some tasty brews from Deschutes Brewery. See you there!

 

Maegan Ward
Outreach Coordinator | Field Instructor
maegan.ward@soleexperiences.org

SOLE-Ful Seven Series: An Interview with Mary Weber-Quinn

dmarshall_pafeboard2016_dsc_5618Mary has her Masters in Interpretation and after some stints in the National Park Service and Rocky Mountain Academy, Mary now works up at Schweitzer Mountain Resort as the Director of Events and Activities. She has three daughters who grew up skiing at Schweitzer and still live here. Although new to SOLE’s Board of Directors, she has lived in Sandpoint for over 20 years and feels strongly that getting kids outside is vital for their emotional and physical well-being. Mary is passionate about providing opportunities for kids to “use winter” and believes that SOLE has the expertise to show them how.

 

MW: What brought you to SOLE?
MWQ: SOLE came to me. I met Dennison through SnowSchool at Schweitzer and talked a lot and worked together on a plan to bring SOLE up to the mountain. I worked with experiential education in the past and worked with Clark Fork, so it was really appealing to work with SOLE. I appreciate what they do and have an understanding for what they do and I just really wanted to help out.

MW: What is your favorite part of being in this community? (Sandpoint/N. ID)
MWQ: Friends and family; it’s the wonderful people that I know here and it is a great place to raise my kids; they are still living here. I like the recreational aspect of this community. Essentially, I like the “vibe”. There is not one thing that stands out.

MW: What is your favorite outdoor experience? Most memorable?
MWQ: When my kids were little they couldn’t ski all day, and we would have picnics just barely out of bounds up at Schweitzer. We would just stomp out an area right past the rope and have a picnic, it seemed so far out in the backcountry, but it wasn’t. Now it’s in bounds near Stella. It was just really cool, and some good memories.

MW: What is your passion in the outdoors? Favorite recreational activity?
MWQ: My passion is peacefulness; it is a place where everything is quiet. I don’t have to do anything, I can just be. I can go for a long hike if I want to but I don’t have to. It is the peacefulness of being. My answer would have been different 30 years ago. If I want to be skiing I would love it, or hiking but I don’t have to be driven to do or accomplish something I can just be.

MW: What are you most excited for this season?
MWQ: Skiing again! I haven’t skied in a year. I haven’t really skied in about two years, because I had my knee replaced so I am going to re-learn. I am excited to see if I can ski; I just got some new backcountry skis. I will probably just go out in that and then move onto alpine gear.

MW: What has been your favorite SOLE experience so far?
MWQ: Going to Colburn Lake with the Clark Fork kids. The kids were great and the lake is a special place. We hiked out so they could see what the lake was like.

MW: Do you have a favorite Deschutes beer? Which one and why?
MWQ: Fresh Squeezed because it’s light and hoppy.

Get to know Mary and the other board members at our SOLE-Ful Meet & Greet: A Pre-Backcountry Film Festival Event. It will be a great opportunity to see what SOLE has lined up for the winter, a chance at a sneak peak into the phenomenal silent auction and raffle prizes, as well as enjoy some tasty brews from Deschutes Brewery. See you there!

 

Version 2Maegan Ward
Outreach Coordinator | Field Instructor
maegan.ward@soleexperiences.org