Highlights from the first half of the year, by Lead Teacher Ian Collins

Posted on Tuesday December 29, 2015

Fall 2015 Quarterly Report, Camden Residential Program


We’ve had a great start to our year at Wayfinder Schools. The students arrived and unpacked their bags on September 13th and have been able to participate in many experiences designed to cultivate and create our team. These experiences have included an Experiential Learning Expedition (ELE) to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. There, the students had the opportunity to challenge themselves through climbing the rock face at Otter Cliffs. They also were able to get to know each other a bit better while sitting around the campfire and sleeping under the stars.  Since returning from this ELE, the student have been getting used to the daily routine and schedule. Moreover, since the students went without their cell phones and other electronic devices, they focused their downtime energy in getting to know each other better through games and conversation.

Through the end of October, the students have grown in terms of their academic focus and social comfort within the house.  Student have continued to participate in a variety of ELE’s over the weekends which have included Fright Night at Fort Knox, a day sail on the schooner Appledore, exploring a corn maze and taking a hayride at a local farm, a 5k race on Halloween, and a trip to Portland. In addition to their expeditions, student have also spent their weekends participating in various service learning opportunities with garden projects at Senior Fare, writing letters of appreciation to our neighbors, delivering food harvested for public suppers, and performing yard work to benefit the seniors at 63 Washington. The students from both the Camden and New Gloucester campus’ had a chance to meet at our inter-campus icebreaker at Camp Kieve. There, the students were able to challenge themselves through high ropes initiatives and get to know the students at the other campus a bit better. Overall, we’ve grown a tremendous amount as a community and the students have settled into the schedule.


In Field Ecology we have been able to explore a variety of habitats in our backyard here on the Mid-coast. The students have enjoyed our interpretive hikes and have been developing the skills necessary to accurately use their guidebooks and key out species. We started the class with a focus on the geological history of our landscape with a visit to Balance Rock at Fernald’s Neck. There we used the exposed granite to discuss glaciation and ecological succession. The following series of classes challenged students to explore different biotic and abiotic factors that influence ecological function and we began identifying specific trees in our forests. To better understand species variation, student participated in a DNA extraction lab where we isolated DNA molecules from strawberries and another organic material chosen by the students. From there, we moved on to discuss genetic mutation and adaptation at the Owl’s Head tide pools. Students have also created transects at Tanglewood 4H Camp that they will use for a long-term ecological survey.

We have been reading “The Things They Carried” in our Reading Group. The novel focuses on the Vietnam War and initiates conversation about grief, violence, and wrestling with internal emotions and thoughts. Cathy Ames-Cruz, who teaches the class, has done a bulk of the reading aloud but students have become more comfortable sharing some of that task and have take turns reading aloud themselves. They continue to struggle with some of the vocabulary and are assigned weekly vocabulary words that they must use in a paragraph or other medium to demonstrate their understanding of the definitions. They have also begun to make connections between the imagery and themes of the book and their own lives.

Students have seemed to enjoy our Writing Class. The course began with a strong focus on creative fictional writing. Through a series of in-class exercise the students created their own stories with inspiration from constructed first sentences as well as found characters and places. Their stories, while fictional in nature, seemed to be a bit autobiographical and often spoke to themes and aspirations the students have in their own lives. More recently, the students have begun a unit on poetry. They have “translated” existing poems using a thesaurus to create their own “synonym” and “antonym” poems. Students have struggled with the word play a bit and seem challenged by imagination driven creative writing. To aid with this process, we have returned to found sources, such as newspapers and magazines, to create poems through blacking out certain words or phrases. Some of the students have voiced excitement about performing in a “Poetry Out Loud” competition and I am currently trying to organize a competition for those interested.

Our Green Initiatives Course has really focused on issues concerning local food security, the globalized food and clothes systems, and the impact of those on people and the environment. We explored local reports about food insecure seniors and the students work towards their Service Learning credit has been to grow, harvest, and donate food for public suppers offered at a nearby church. Students also took a trip to Hannaford where they collected data about where a lot of our fruits and vegetables come from. We used that data to analyze our food choices and the energy inputs in the globalized food market. With that information in mind, we transitioned to a discussion around the global clothes industry and the impact on workers in other parts of the world. We also took a critical look at discounted retailers here in the US and the impact of imported items on local jobs and opportunities. These topics have led to many interesting conversations about out-sourcing and its costs and benefits to us as consumers. Moreover, the students have demonstrated and increased awareness of their own choices in supporting systems that they find unacceptable.

Sarah is leading the American Sign Language (ASL) Class. Students started by learning about deaf culture and the ASL alphabet; practicing those signs through games and in class activities. They then moved towards signs used in basic conversation with an emphasis on people, places, and things as well as classroom objects and family. They touched on some Thanksgiving signs in preparation for our Global Thanksgiving event.

In Diversity and Social Justice Class we began the year with a discussion around income inequality. Students calculated average worker salaries for a Fortune 500 company and compared that figure with the annual CEO pay. They were startled at the difference, which ignited some passionate discussion. As the Columbus Day holiday approached, we transitioned into our Native American rights unit. We took a critical perspective of Columbus’s journey to the Americas as well as the lasting impact of European colonization and the subsequent resettlement of native peoples.  We examined contemporary issues facing the Lakota people in the Midwest through the work of photographer Aaron Huey as well as local land and water rights issues facing the Penobscot peoples of central Maine. In conjunction with their Digital Media arts class, students were able to interpret the words of Colonel Cobb, a Choctaw tribe member, whose lands were taken and his people forced westward during the 1800’s. The students memorized a three to four line piece of the speech, created and illustration, and produced a film of their recitation of the speech. Most recently the students have been crafting their papers, presentations, and dishes for our Global Thanksgiving celebration on November 19th.

happy staff

Documentary Film Class has typically been facilitated by Allie Smith and has given the students an opportunity to view a wide variety of documentary films including “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “Fed Up” both focus on food preparation and culture;  “True Cost,” “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price,” both of which address issues of the global fashion market and impact of outsourcing; “Meru” a film focused on high stakes mountaineering; “Louder Than a Bomb,” about a large, high school poetry slam competition; “What Happened, Miss Simone?” a biographical film about Nina Simone; and “Beyond Measure,” about the importance of alternative education.

Group Math Class has been intricately woven into many of the topics addressed in other classes. We have analyzed pay scales to complement the income-inequality unit in Diversity and Social Justice. Student have also calculated and reflected on worker pay in a Nike factory in Jakarta to better understand our clothes miles unit in Green Initiatives. Most recently, students have utilized many of the statistics for their Global Thanksgiving projects. This has included creating a scatter plot to illustrate the relationship between two of their statistics, calculating and comparing weekly budgets in the countries they are studying as well as for our school, and they creating a pie-chart to reflect percentages of different categories in their food budget.


Individual Math Credit is specific to each student.

In Digital Media/Arts the student have been working with Alexis Iammarino and Scott Sell to produce a variety of creative projects. The students have collaborated on a mural with the Sweetland School and their elementary age students. The mural will be hung on display at the local transfer station.


The students have also learned the basics of film production and were able to put those skills to use with the Colonel Cobb video. Furthermore, they have been able to create many different types of illustrations and recently completed a Shibori textile-dyeing project. They are also working on creating radio diaries and examining the power of auditory storytelling.


Career Explorations

We’ve just wrapped up our first quarter of this term’s Career Explorations Program. During the first week of school, students worked with Sarah to craft resumes and cover letters as well as research career opportunities that interest them. This led to actual interviews with jobsite supervisors and eventually placements for the students in the community. The students spend 12 hours per week at these placement sites, learning about a potential career path and getting hands-on experience in the field.

Residential Living

Students have been settling into residential living and getting used to the systems we have in place. They have been busy learning all of the required chores around the house, cooking, building relationships and community, exploring Maine on ELE’s, and taking advantage of service learning opportunities. We hosted our first ‘Loved One’s Luncheon’ and opened our home to friends and families. Students designed their own costumes and raced in Rockland’s “Scare Me 5k” race and a few took home prizes. In addition to their weekend ELE’s students have been working hard on various service learning projects that earn them one of the four residential program credits. These projects have included volunteering at the local Camden International Film Festival, growing food for seniors with Senior Fare, and delivering leaves for compost at a local senior citizen home. Students have been honing their communication skills in our weekly Resolution Circles and have been generally brave and open about their emotions and thoughts. Developing trusting relationships has been difficult for some but overall the group has settled into a supportive community.



It has been a promising start to our year at Wayfinder. Our community has grown leaps and bounds in our short time together and will undoubtedly evolve in a number of surprising and wonderful ways. It’s been great to see the students settle into the space and embrace the challenging academic pace of the year. I look forward to seeing us all learn and grow together. I wish you and your family the best this holiday season.