Being in Hollis School on Prince of Wales Island (POW) is much more than standing in a building. It is moving through thoughts, ideas, and processes. The surroundings explore and express, inspire and motivate. There are projects everywhere, from the vegetable seedlings sprouting in the lunchroom window, to large sheets of paper on the walls that explore key points of the students investigation of whether or not the Alaska DOT should spray herbicides on POW. A herd of ukuleles hang on their hooks, waiting patiently for music lessons to start. A giant paper mache fish is covered with anatomy lessons. It is a tapestry of learning.
The 17 member K-12 student body and two preschoolers create and reflect their surroundings. These kids are polite, engaged, inquisitive, and cheerful. They study the core educational requirements, and go far beyond. They are also fun to be around.
I was at the Hollis school to do a project with the kids, but first I was lucky enough to be present when Sarah, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension Service, was there to teach a canning class. She taught the difference between high and low acid foods, and why low acid foods are pressure canned. In one afternoon Sarah and the students pressure canned smoked salmon, pickled and canned carrots, and -bonus!- made kale chips. Amazing! And everybody loved the kale chips.
While the kids were busy making pickled carrots Roger had the difficult duty of sitting in the sun keeping an eye on the pressure cooker with the salmon in it.
Sarah is amazing! I even heard the teachers commenting on how good she is with the kids. I took two other Extension classes with Sarah while she was on POW - one on pickling and fermenting and one on food entrepreneurship. I learned a lot! If you hear of an Extension Service class in your area then GO! It is worth your time and fun, too.
The students treated Sarah and me to beautiful songs in Tlingit, and English. They also signed in American Sign Language while singing the Hollis Song!
Lisa is the reason that I went to Hollis. She read this website and contacted me. I realized that she was reaching out to people to find as much support for her students as she could. I wanted to be supportive of her strong dedication to her students.
Lisa gave me a tour of the school, stopping in the hallway to tell me about the Gratitude Bags. This is the point at which I decided to start blogging again after a months-long dry spell. The kids made litter collection bags and pick up after unseen litterbugs; probably adult litterbugs much of the time. That is a powerful statement for me. Is it for you, too?
Above the shoulder bags is a sign that reads:
Hollis Gratitude Bags
A partnership with the Hollis Community Council started by our 2012-2013 2nd graders to facilitate community litter pickup to solve a problem and make a difference. Our student-made litter collection bags are upcycled blue jeans from POWER Thrift Store. Students carry their gratitude bags on field work, field trips, and community walks. Filling our bags allows us to express our gratitude for our beautiful island community.
Lisa told me about the students voluntarily making sure that they had their bags with them. A clean and healthy environment is important to them in their young world.
The next day I helped the students start a batch of devil's club salve. It was threatening to rain, so out in the covered play area they scraped the thin outer bark off, and then peeled the inner bark with potato peelers. The inner bark is what the salve will be made with.
We talked about harvesting respectfully and honoring the gift of the plant. After the students peeled the sticks then George, the coach and aid, scraped the devil's club sticks clean so that the students can make beads out of them later.
Throughout the time that I was there teachers Julie and Lisa integrated the enrichment activities with math, science, writing, and art.
When Lisa invited me to the school she talked about a place-based curriculum. Yes, the standards apply, and then the students get so much more. By place-based Lisa means that the students learn about where they live. For a comparison, when I went to grade school in Juneau (oh, so many years ago) it seems like we learned more about African animals than Alaskan animals. The place-based curriculum at the Hollis school does not try to form an insular education, but combines general education with the reality of local life and environment to make the learning applicable and memorable.
I was lucky to be invited to spend a little time with the Hollis students, and am much richer for having met them.
Stand up now...yes, you. We are all going to give a standing ovation to Head Teacher Julie, Teacher Lisa, Preschool Teacher Barb, Principal Nick, Chef Cathy, Coach George, Paraprofessional Extraordinaire Tammy, Cheerful Bus Diver Nick, and All Around Volunteer Roger. CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, WHISTLE, CLAP, CLAP!
Good job, they can hear you.
May the sunshine of conveying knowledge glow within you,