“Without question, experiential learning enhances scholastic learning….this type of learning builds confidence, encourages risk taking, reduces the fear of failure, gives oxygen to collaboration, nurtures imagination, promotes problem solving, allows reverie, and grows a taproot from which scholastic learning flowers”. -M. MacKenzie
It was difficult leaving North Country School (NCS) and the Adirondacks yesterday. I felt like I had just scratched the surface of this junior boarding school tucked within the old and sheer mountains of northern New York. What I did find was a very intentional community that grew out of a camp. In many ways, this camp like spirit flows through many aspects of NCS, yet this is a place of scholastics and experience, a boarding school that gracefully supports the growth of intellectual, physical and social skills.
Prior to my arrival, I viewed Headmaster David (Hock) Hochschartner Thanksgiving remarks to parents. In the video Hock covers the four elements that he feels make NCS the community it is: “We help them be happy”; “they’re engaged constantly”; “we help them become resilient individuals”; “we help them form strong relationships with there community”.
Over lunch with Hoch and others, and in my time on campus I saw the four elements Hoch elucidates first hand. A paramout example of the culture under-girding the NCS experience was the student led community meetings after a wonderful lunch. At this meeting students and adults work together to “schedule” the farm chores, outdoor and other outings, and community concerns and celebrations. In a walk through campus I witnessed classes where students were engaged and at ease with the adults and technology in the room and a community that lives and breaths a type of work that is endeared to students, healthy and connected to the learning process. From the “wool room” where students card, dye, felt and weave the sheep’s wool they have cared for, to daily morning “horse”chores at the barn, the integration farm and food into science courses and student driven work on environmental issues, NCS is a place worthy of a closer look.
Growing a “taproot of experience for scholastic learning to flower” in education starts with the safety, empowerment and the space provided for young people for flourish. One shape does not fit all, yet it may do all of us well to ask how our learning environments ensure the happiness, engagement, resilience and healthy relationships of the students entrusted to us on a minute to minute, hour to hour and daily basis. It is precisely this that may allow our taproots to grow even further.
Many thanks to Hock and David Damico for their time yesterday.