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

 

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

SOLE-Ful Seven Series: An Interview with John Gaddess

johngaddess1In the next seven weeks, we will be releasing a blog post about one of our seven board members leading up to our SOLE-full meet and greet at Idaho Pour Authority on November 30th. To begin this series, we are starting with John Gaddess, a newer board member, who is passionate about SOLE and the impact it can have on this community.

 

MW: So, what brought you to SOLE?
JG: My wife was a college friend with Joy, and when we moved to Sandpoint, we ran into Dennison at the farmers market. Became friends with Dennison and I was introduced to SOLE through him. This was about 7 years ago.

MW: So what drew you to become a Board Member?
JG: I saw there was a need, and this seemed important. I love what they are doing, and I had similar experiences when I was a child that was life changing. I love that Dennison is bringing that here.

MW: What is your favorite part of this community? (Sandpoint)
JG: Well, there are multiple scales to this community; there is the town, neighborhood and county. THE favorite would be the “we are here together feeling”, camaraderie and the respect. You just say hi to people and meet people. I grew up in a large suburban community and no body interacts, you are just “one of the thousands”, but Sandpoint is a big small town. There are a lot of helping hands, a lot of togetherness here.

MW: What is your favorite outdoor experience? Most memorable?johngaddess2
JG: Oh, there is a lot. My first solo-backpacking trip in Glacier, around 2000. It was a learning experience. I had never been and went by myself. I did fine, did a lot of miles. I made a lot of friends who could tell that I was new, and helped me out. I didn’t have a camp stove, just a water purifier and pistachio shells. There have been a lot since then, I have had some great adventures and did cool stuff but that one sticks out the most in my mind. I was only about 19 or 20 at the time, and had wanderlust; I just wanted to do it.

MW: What is your passion in the outdoors? Your favorite recreational activity?
JG: Right now it’s disc golf and mountain biking. My favorite mountain bike got stolen and I still haven’t replaced it. Although I still have the lust for it. And backpacking. I am waiting to expose my family to mountain biking.
(He has two young children, one daughter almost to the age to mountain bike)

MW: What are you most excited for this season?
JG: I am excited for the programs that are offered. To see the continuation, that much more exposure and more kids. As a board member, I am excited for the opportunity to expose SOLE through the winter contacts, and excited to get the word out. There are people here in their 30-40’s who would be huge advocates, they would be into it. How SOLE attracts interest is from the community. We should “get some stickers out”; at least half the community would put stickers on their car.

MW: What has been your favorite SOLE experience so far?
JG: The energy, enthusiasm, creativity and professionalism of the board meetings are great. Maybe it’s a “honeymoon” phase, but we all very dedicated to it, and all the current board members are established professionals and accustomed to success. They will live up to what they commit to. I am excited to see what they can get done. I believe we can do great things.

MW: Do you have a favorite Deschutes beer? Which one and why?
JG: (laughs) I always joke about being sponsored by Deschutes. Lots of them are favorites. My favorite at the moment is Fresh Squeezed. Its full flavor, has lots of hops and piney.

Get to know John 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!

 

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

SOLE Project LEAD Experience Program Receives $18,000 Grant!

watershed1


On Thursday June 19th, 2015 we received notice from the Inland Northwest Community Foundation that SOLE was awarded an $18,000 Equinox Foundation Grant for our Project LEAD in the Delta — Exploring the Clark Fork River Delta, and the greater Lake Pend Oreille Watershed proposal.

With these funds students of Lake Pend Oreille School District will have the opportunity to participate in a transformational experience where they will be able to explore our local watershed – from the source to the lake.  In these local environs, students will be able to make sound academic connections as they focus on leadership, environmental awareness and stewardship, and personal and social development.  This program will be supported by a unique blend of curriculum from SOLE’s Fieldwork Experience SM (place-based experiential education) and Project LEAD Experience SM (outdoor leadership) programs.  In addition, coursework will also include a project-learning framework to increase ownership and learning comprehension.

With a purposeful design in hand, the youth of LPOSD (and beyond) will truly have an opportunity to explore > achieve > lead in their own backyard.  As a result, they will have a sincere opportunity to develop a sense of belonging towards their community and its environment.  We are very humbled by this opportunity to work with our communities’  youth in this capacity and are sincerely grateful to have the continued support to continue our goal to ‘Reach And Teach’ 1,000 More!

An Affinity For Nature

IMG_5381According to Merriam’s Online Dictionary the word affinity is defined as a natural attraction, liking, or feeling of kinship.   Affinity may or may not be something that we consciously connect with our time spent in nature, however, it is something that is crucial to personal mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  It is for this reason that I would even venture to say it is especially important for us to provide intentional opportunities for our youth to develop an affinity for nature.

Have you ever shared a young person’s experience in nature as they explore and make meaningful connections?  This look and excitement is unmistakable, and to share these moments with young people is nothing short of touching. Having grown up exploring the tidal pools in the Outer Banks in North Carolina and mountainous streams throughout Appalachia, I can attest to the power and meaning which occurred for me during these moments, and I think it was equally as powerful for my parents to witness. To see me grow and connect with something greater than myself and develop a true sense of belonging that would help shape my formative years was surely meaningful for them.  And now, as my son has completed his third birthday I find that he is most at peace in this same setting – when outside the confines of our cabin home, immersed in our natural world.

When we have an emotional experience in nature it sparks a fire that fuels future dreams and aspirations, including those related to conservation and stewardship.  After all, how can we be invested and take responsibility if we do not have a direct and meaningful connection?  It has also been shown through these moments positive personal and social development can occur.

Aspects such as these are of the utmost importance as we enter a generational period where technological advances influence environmental policy and personal choices or a lack there of.  As research demonstrates more youth are opting to choose a sedentary lifestyle leading to outcomes such as childhood obesity, gaming abuse, poor academic performance and other at-risk behavior. With the increase and advancement in mobile technology there is even greater need to ensure that we support programs and organizations that provide opportunities to intentionally reconnect youth to their natural system of checks and balance.

At SOLE we believe that the natural learning environment provides such a system, while also providing an opportunity to develop an affinity for nature. In the book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv stated, “in the United States, children ages six to eleven spend about thirty hours a week looking at a TV or computer monitor” (2005, p.47). In addition, if we look at the statistics from 1997 to 2003 we can see a 50 percent decline in the amount of time spent hiking, walking, fishing, gardening, and playing at the beach by children ages nine to twelve (Hofferth and Sandberg, 2001).

“This principle holds that a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.” ~ Richard Louv, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder

WIMG_1643ith evidence such as this it is safe to say, playing and learning in nature is no longer commonplace, as it was when my generation was my son’s age and older.  And the potential ramifications are noteworthy. Today our youth have less access to intentional experiential education programming which supports developing and sustaining a nature-based connection.  How can they with a standards-based, extra curricular activity driven society?  At SOLE, we meet this need head on by providing intentionally designed and facilitated experiential and outdoor education programs to immerse youth and adults in environs where they can experience sincere emotional connections, and therefore, develop an affinity for nature that is lasting.

Because of the hectic school and after-school schedule, summer often provides the perfect time of year to experience something which allows you to unplug and reconnect.  These outdoor experiences can make memories which last a lifetime, some which can shift your entire paradigm.  From day-based outdoor science camps to outdoor leadership expeditions and adventure therapy exploratory expeditions, SOLE provides transformational experiences which allow youth and adults to truly explore, achieve, and lead.  We welcome you to join our team this summer to truly experience SOLE and let the experience speak for itself!  For more information on all of our upcoming programs please visit our Upcoming Experiences and Events.

Hope to see you on the trail or water,
Dennison 

Spokane/Sandpoint Youth Outdoor Science Camps Filling up FAST!

IMG_1647Interested in immersing your child in a natural learning environment this summer? Better get on it, our Junior Naturalist Experience SM outdoor science camps are filling up fast! These intentional day camps are thematically designed so youth can experience the diversity which exists in our natural world.  We are also excited to offer partial and FULL scholarships for select eligible youth!

Click on the flyer link for more details or Contact us. Ready to sign up? Do so by clicking the button below!

Register Now !

 

 
Click below for your own flyer to share with your friends!
2014 Junior Naturalist Summer Session Flyer