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home : education : schools July 27, 2015

4/29/2014 12:57:00 PM
The art and science of outdoor education
Sisters High School juniors Christopher Burdick and Laynie Hildebrand take in the beauty and nature of Whychus Creek, while on an IEE field trip.  photo by Jim Anderson
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Sisters High School juniors Christopher Burdick and Laynie Hildebrand take in the beauty and nature of Whychus Creek, while on an IEE field trip. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

Last Tuesday was one of those special days that Sisters High School students will remember for a long time to come. They had the opportunity to spend most of the day listening, feeling, and watching the nature of Whychus Creek as they participated in IEE studies.

IEE is the acronym for "Interdisciplinary Environmental Expedition," a nontraditional approach to education and the arts. The program has been ongoing for over 14 years at SHS. Sisters students study the water and the watershed scientifically, and also approach it with an artist's eye.

Students compose original music, poems, and art as they absorb the beauty and strength of Whychus Creek and its environment.

SHS teachers Samra Spear, Rand Runco, and Glenn Herron provide the opportunity for the students to see, feel, and hear the beauty of Sisters Country through the IEE program. Along with the three teachers, Kolleen Yake, education director for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, leads part of the students into creating poems and music that express the students emotional and intellectual feelings about Whychus Creek.

These outside-of-school adventures allow time and opportunity for students to share thoughts with each other, teachers, and volunteers that accompany them. The quality time is spent developing skills in the arts, such as:

• Discussing future careers;

• Gaining a better sense of self, community, and who they are and can be in world affairs;

• Easier transition to post-secondary, or career skills;

• Work experience training;

• Take part in teamwork opportunities;

• Use of critical thinking skills;

• Enjoy real-life, relevant experiences.

Christopher Burdick and Laynie Hildebrand sat on a log, at times lost in their own thoughts, as they composed poems on what they were feeling, hearing, and seeing while Whychus Creek rumbled by. But at times they would discuss what was on their minds - like what stewardship means.

On stewardship, Christopher said, "I think it means to care for something you really don't want to lose..." and then looking at the creek rushing by, the trees towering above him, and the old rock shelter once used by the First People who lived a long Whychus Creek, and quietly said, "like this..."

And these thoughts came to Laynie as the beauty and sounds of Whychus Creek birds sifted through her thoughts:

"The lullaby that birds sing

Is a whisper in the calm breeze

That calms my restless soul"

One of the first IEE participants, Miriam LaMaistre, who today is the mother of two, recalls her experience this way:

"I don't remember specifics from our trips to Whychus Creek (maybe a few details about mayfly life cycles), but I did learn how to be in nature. How to listen to the creek, how to feel a puff of wind, how to observe and chronicle the purposeful but hurried nuthatch skimming from trunk to trunk prodding for his lunch.

"I learned everything is magnificent, but in different ways. I learned how to be still in an environment and let its frantic pace slide past me. Unlike trigonometry (sorry, Mr. Runco!) I use these skills on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

"As a mom to two little ones I have used the IEE experiences to learn how to listen to the soft breathing of a sleeping child, how to feel a bruised shin, and how to watch my 2-year-old take a painfully long time to put on shoes. Mayflies included, IEE taught me more lessons on being present and invested in my environment than anything else."

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