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.

SOLE receives generous support for our SnowSchool Experience program!

Since it’s inception in 2014, SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience SM program has become a cornerstone of our organization’s experiential education program offerings serving over 800 youth over the past (3) years.  While SOLE strives to custom-tailor all SOLE Experiences SM for individual participants, schools, and other stakeholders we serve, this program primarily serves 5th – 12th grade local area public and private schools.  Each season program participants are able to experience a rich interdisciplinary curricula which includes lessons related to  SOLE’s 4 Cares SM, snow science, winter ecology, avalanche awareness, and winter outdoor living and travel skills.  SOLE aligns SnowSchool Experience SM curriculum to state standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core to ensure that goals, objectives, and learning targets are met.  Coupled with novel organizational philosophies, evidence-based best practices, and pedagogies related to experiential education to include outdoor education, place-based education, and project-based learning – students come to SOLE each winter to be immersed in a natural learning learning environment where they can truly explore, achieve, and lead!

A noteworthy and consistent goal of our organization is to provide affordable access to the transformational experiential education programs we offer, including our SnowSchool Experiences SM.  As such, SOLE staff and board works diligently constructing grants, soliciting sponsorship, and fundraising during our Annual Backcountry Film Festival events held each fall.  And the hard work is continuing to pay off.  Over the past few months we have had the great fortune to receive two grant awards from local foundations to support our SnowSchool Experience SM program, allowing us to ‘reach and teach’ into 2017!

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Earlier this summer, SOLE received notice that we would be awarded a $7,000 grant award from the Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE) to support our 5th grade SnowSchool Experience program with Lake Pend Oreille School District.  This noteworthy support will provide access to a (3) day experience for over 300 5th students in Lake Pend Oreille School District.  Students experience a pre-lesson in the classroom where they are oriented to what to expect “in the field”, introductory experiential lessons related to watershed geology, hydrology, and geography; mountain snowpack as it relates to a community natural resource including an orientation to the ever important concept known as Snow Water Equivalency (SWE).  Once in the field students deepen their learning comprehension as they experientially learn the finer points of snowshoeing, winter ecology, and snow science.  This full day portion of the program includes experiential lessons on introductory outdoor living and travel skills, winter ecology, and snow science.  The later includes the completion of a thorough snowpit profile where students collect data and assess the snowpack to include, hardness, snow crystallography, temperature, and SWE.  Once back in the classroom students synthesize the data they collected and compare and contrast their findings to local historical SWE trends to draw conclusions related to their communities’ water resource needs.  This includes completion of a line graph detailing their findings.  As one might imagine, this program provides a novel gateway to address academic standards related to math, science, and other core subject, as well as those related to physical education, leadership, and character development.

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More recently, SOLE was also awarded a $10,000 grant from the Inland Northwest Community Foundation, Equinox Foundation Grant Program for our SnowSchool Experience SM program expansion. This support will continue our work within Bonner County schools to include providing custom-tailored SnowSchool Experiences SM for schools like Clark Fork Junior / Senior High School, as well as expand offerings into the Boundary County School District.  Areas of focus will include those aspects previously mentioned, as well as providing opportunities to teach snow science related to avalanche awareness, and outdoor living and travel skills for the youth of Bonner and Boundary County.

We are truly grateful for the continued support that these three organizations have shown towards our SnowSchool Experience SM program, and SOLE at large.  Because of this support, will be able to further our mission and students will be afforded access to the transformational experiential education programming that our SnowSchool Experience SM program offers.  Additionally, we are also grateful for the continued support that Schweitzer Mountain Resort, the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center , and the Winter Wildlands Alliance has shown to underpin our work in the field.

Still the work continues, as the grants awarded will only partially support our SnowSchool Experience SM program as it is currently established.  In addition, we have a greater vision which includes the establishment of yurts at our SnowSchool Experience SM Field Campuses, including Schweitzer Mountain Resort so our programs have access to a classroom space in times of severe inclement weather, and so these programming opportunities are available for future local area youth in our region.  You can do you part by attending and participating in our Annual Backcountry Film Festival, becoming a program or event sponsor, or by making a tax deductible in-kind or financial contribution by clicking here or simply contact us.

For those seeking further evidence of the benefits please take time to look at our SnowSchool Experience SM videos, and review some of the numbers, comments, and student story below:

Elementary SnowSchool Experience SM program video:

Middle & HighSchool SnowSchool Experience SM program video:

Some relevant numbers:

  • Between 60-97% of the students that attend our local public schools qualify for a free-reduced lunch (at or below the poverty level).
  • Over 80% of the students rated their SnowSchool Experience as 4 or 5 (on a 1-5 Likert-type Scale)
  • Over 70% of students acknowledged snowshoeing and exploring their local mountain ecosystem for the first time.
  • Over 80% of students demonstrated a greater understanding of the importance of mountain snowpack as it relates to our communities water resource needs.

Some of the many positive comments.

  • “I really liked learning about different trees.”
  • “Best trip Ever!”
  • “I hope that they will never stop SnowSchool! Fun and education!!”
  • “I learned so many new things at SnowSchool,such as: snow-shoeing.”
  • “I had fun because I got to do science I might not get to do anymore unless I become a hydrologist.”
  • “I would like to share that I would go again if I had a chance.”
  • “The most awesome field trip I have ever gone on!” 

A student’s story:

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Personally, when I reflect on our organization’s accomplishments with this program and view the view the pieces above I recognize the significant benefits that this transformational experiential education program offers our local area youth including the ability to make sound academic connections in a novel manner, as well as the opportunity to be immersed in a natural learning environment to further develop a relationship within themselves, with their peers, with their environment, and with their community.

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