The Relaunch of Experiential Education at CWA

Tarriers return to beloved on and off-campus learning experiences after a year of COVID delays

by Katie Miller
Experiential Education Director, Upper School Faculty

Katie Miller Hiking with StudentsMy name is Katie Miller and I am the Director of Experiential Education at Charles Wright Academy. While this is my first year in this role, it is my ninth year as a teacher at CWA and my eighth year coordinating our Outdoor Education Program. What I love about this job is thinking about the experiences we can tie into the curriculum that make learning come alive for students. I partner with teachers to help develop opportunities for students to engage in active, joyful learning, whether it is speaking Spanish during a homestay in Costa Rica, or visiting Mt. Rainier to study the Nisqually Watershed. Experiential education is an essential part of the learning process. We have been running programs for decades and know they are a cornerstone of the CWA experience. We are committed to making them happen. The school is developing experiential education opportunities from preschool through senior year, and we are exploring ways the program can continue to grow and evolve. We see this year as an opportunity to reimagine these programs. We want to ensure the opportunities meet the needs of our students, are age-appropriate, align with the curriculum, and build on previous experiences. 

How will Experiential Education look different this year?

Below are photos of a 10th grader getting packed up for their Outdoor Education trips and Middle Schoolers working on their creations for the Egg Drop Challenge. You will notice things look a little different from when we last ran these programs. 

After more than a year of COVID delays, we are thrilled to be offering off-campus experiential education opportunities again this year. We have a year of data on how to manage COVID-19 in schools and feel confident about the protocols we have in place. This is allowing us to bring back some of the experiences we were unable to offer last year. The reality is that some of these programs will look different due to COVID, but we are working to reimagine experiential education programs to fit within our current protocols. I am excited to share a bit more with you about what we are envisioning for the different divisions this year. We have already been able to offer successful off-campus experiences in the Middle and Upper School and it has been incredible to see students tackling challenges and building connections with their peers. Please keep in mind that what we are planning for 2021-22 is subject to change as we adjust to the ever-changing environment COVID has created.

Lower School Experiential Education 

In the Lower School, our youngest grades have been out exploring the campus. Even in wet, rainy weather they are out there in their rainsuits splashing in the puddles and exploring the forest. We have an incredible natural environment right here on our campus, which is perfect for developing small explorers. Students have been out working in the garden and studying the orchards here on campus to think about where our food comes from and how it grows. 

Students will be thinking about sustainability and how to be stewards to our environment. Some of the off-campus experiences have included a visit to Mt Rainier as part of the Nisqually Watershed Project. Groups learned more about the National Park, glaciers, rivers, and collected some water samples to advance their study. Students will continue this work throughout the year and partner with Mt. Rainier Institute this spring. Upcoming site visits will include Wildhorse Wind Farm and Ginkgo Petrified Forest. We will also continue our work with NatureBridge to enhance our students’ study of environmental science.

Lower Schoolers outdoors in rain suits

Middle School Experiential Education

The Middle Schoolers were able to once again participate in Middle School Camp. Two days at Camp Seymour included canoeing, team building, field games, archery, and high ropes. This experience was a great way for new and returning students to get to know each other. Students spent time in their advisory groups, which allowed them to build stronger bonds with their peers and advisors.

The whole Middle School participated in the Egg Drop Challenge. Students worked in small groups to design creations to protect their eggs. They had to collaborate and innovate to come up with the best design. The challenge included Mr. Hoppin dropping the designs from a scissor lift set at different heights, and eventually a drop from the Middle School roof. There were several groups that successfully completed the challenge with an intact egg.

This year Middle School students will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of programs. These will include experiences like day visits to Islandwood to study freshwater and natural ecology. Working with the Seattle Shakespeare Company will help make their study of literature come alive and allow for deeper exploration of the texts. Students will enhance their study of environmental science with a visit to Mt. St. Helens. This spring, students will lace up their boots and participate in a backpacking trip on the Washington Coast, a CWA tradition for more than 40 years.

Upper School Experiential Education 

We were able to run a successful Experiential Education Week in the Upper School this September with each grade participating in off-campus activities. The 9th grade experience focused on building relationships with one another and establishing their place in the Upper School. The 9th graders participated in various activities designed to get students out of the classroom and into the community: Students spent a day at Camp Seymour building connections with their peers, they visited the Art Museums in Tacoma, and spent time connecting with the senior class. 

The 10th grade experienced the beauty and wonder of nature and pushed the limits of their comfort zone. We had groups backpacking and camping in Olympic National Park, Snoqualmie National Forest, Mt. Rainier, and Deception Pass. We also offered a day-hiking group that explored local routes around the sound. It was great to get kids out on the trails again! 

The 11th grade reflected on who they are and where they want to go. They toured colleges and attended a mini-college fair here on campus.  Juniors heard from college deans and directors of admission about what is distinctive about the universities they represent. All of the students enjoyed a day at Camp Seymour, which allowed them to get outside and spend time challenging and supporting each other as a class.

Our seniors in the Class of 2022 focused on the college application process. Students participated in application workshops and had time to work on their college essays and applications with the help of their college counselors and teachers. Seniors also heard from a panel of CWA alumni and parents about careers and life after college. They participated in community building activities with 9th graders, and ended the week with a class picnic at Sunnyside Beach, a fun class bonding tradition.

It was wonderful to see the smiles and excitement around the return to these traditions and the beginning of new adventures. There is an incredible energy from the students and faculty when they are engaged in this work. We were able to see the growth and learning in our students during these experiences.

We will be offering Winterim this year but it will look different than it has in the past. This year, Winterim will be the week after Memorial Day weekend (May 31-June 3). It will follow a similar format to our previous model in that there will be a catalogue with the various offerings and students will sign up for their top choices and be assigned to a group for the week. The spring timeframe will allow for more outdoor education opportunities and reduce the conflicts with athletics.  

We are excited to continue these important learning opportunities this year. Look for more information to come on all of these amazing experiences as the year unfolds.

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