Essays from a school in the mountains

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Ever wonder what it would be like to live in a secluded community -one that has no TV or phones, and is only accessible by boat? The teacher and students at Holden High School in Chelan, Wash., know all about that. They responded to our call for teen writers with essays about what life and learning are like among the bears and deer in the Cascade Mountains. A great job By Nancy Rerucha Borges Teacher, Chelan, Wash. I love my job. Last week we read from Thoreau, Edward Abbey, Farley Mowat. We studied global warming, overconsumption, and the American wilderness. We've studied forest ecosystems and seen black bears and deer wander past our classroom windows. We've climbed to a mountain pass at night and watched the crescent moon slipping to the horizon. I love my job. How could I not? I'm learning about the American Revolution from Nick, inertia from Maggie, scientific notation from Charlie. My job is never stagnant, never humdrum. A little background on our school: It's K-12, public, two teachers. I have the students in Grades 7-12. This year there are six. We live at Holden Village, a retreat center at 3,200 feet in the middle of Washington's Cascade Mountains. There are no phones and no TV reception. The village eats together in a dining hall, takes turns doing dishes and sorting garbage. We entertain each other with variety shows, dances, and celebrations. Just getting here is a feat. You must take a boat up Lake Chelan, then a bus or snow track 12 miles into the heart of the mountains. It's no wonder school here is different. Life is different. Here, we know each other - we see each other at meals, interacting with other people, doing other jobs. We see each other as multidimensional creatures. And this brings respect. Here, everyone is valued as an individual and we work together. We are a family. Everyone has a say By Nicholas Lundholm Grade 11, Chelan, Wash. My school seems like a novelty to some. It has one room, six students, and no graduating class. We're way out in the far ends of the Cascade Mountains, across a lake, and up 10 miles of switchbacks. Remote, yes. But necessary. That is the classification that this school has been given - "remote but necessary." A local newspaper recently referred to us as "a step back in history." It's a designation I have certain problems with. A step back? In a time of 40 students per class, where teachers spend half the year learning your name only to forget it the instant the final grade reports are completed, our student body knows not only names, but birth dates and, in all likelihood, favorite colors. In a class of six, no one slips through the cracks. You cannot sit at the rear of the class and avoid notice, you cannot nap during films. When we discuss, everyone has a say. Twenty years from today, if one of us becomes famous, the rest of the class will not be able to say, "She was always a very quiet child. I didn't really notice her." You are held accountable for your performance within school and your actions without. Accountability is really what it's all about. In a school as small as ours, what you learn, above all, is that your actions have an immense effect on those around you. This is what people are talking about when they say that we need to have responsibility and that we need to recognize the consequences of our actions. Perhaps it would do us all some good to take a step back in history. Lots of attention By Madgalena Briehl Wells Grade 7, Chelan, Wash. Unlike the average American child, I have spent the last five years of my life attending a school with three rooms: a library and art room, a high school room, and an elementary room. The building is complete with bathrooms, a drinking fountain, and six rusty red lockers. If you looked into the high school room you wouldn't guess it is an official public school. The whole school is gathered at the table: the teacher, three juniors, two sophomores, and me, a seventh-grader. I am able to look everyone in the eye during lively discussions and debates. It doesn't matter that there is an age span of five years. The most common question people ask me is, "Don't you get a lot of individual attention?" I answer truthfully, "Yes." Help is available whenever a person needs it, sometimes from the teacher, sometimes from another student. Someone who is new to physics can have a teacher at her side and someone who is good in literature can move at his own pace. Everyone shares gifts with the others and everyone receives gifts. This cycle might be present in larger schools, but it is certainly clear in mine. Our school is more than just a place for chemistry. It has become a community. No TV or phone? No sweat By Anna Rieke Grade 11, Chelan, Wash. I am trying to make sense of the images I see. They're getting blurry and I just realized that I'm tearing my eraser into pieces. I can see graphs, lines, numbers, letters, and symbols, but putting them together has proven to be a challenge. Math isn't my best subject. I am lucky, however, because with only six students in my high school, I get plenty of extra attention. Later that day, four of us go to wood shop, where we are making a stringed instrument out of the very trees that surround us. Working slowly and meticulously, we perfect each edge. For every step of the way, we have help and answers to our questions. After wood shop, we all gather around a round table to discuss a current issue. Each of us gets a chance to share our opinion. This keeps us going until our teacher reminds us that we have to move on to our next subject. We decide that we want to practice music. We are practicing for a variety-show performance. We work out the harmonies for each song as our teacher plays the guitar. At 2:30 p.m., school is over, but we linger around to finish some things. No one waits at the door for the clock to change. That evening, I sit on my porch swing to do homework while I watch the clouds over the mountains and wait for the first snow. I can feel the chill in the air and I can hardly wait until the village is covered in white. I reach for my letters and read a sentence from a friend that asks how I'm doing "up there away from civilization without a TV or phone." It's only then that I remember those conveniences and notice that I've made it through another day without thinking of it, and I feel great. Why I am learning By Nels Flesher Grade 11, Chelan, Wash. With their noble goals and good intentions, it seems as if our public schools should be functioning better than they are. There are enough students who get by without a good education to warrant change in our system. I have experienced two distinctly different forms of schooling. In one, I was a single face in a crowd of over 1400 students. Right now, I attend a school with one teacher and a student body of six. I have seen the difference between the way I learned in a quadruple-A division high school and a tiny two room schoolhouse. I like them both. They each have their own flavor and both of them have taught me lessons. However, my current setting is working better. Most important is the difference in my motivation. I am learning because I want to. I am not turning in homework just to fulfill an obligation. Something about this little school has helped me see why I am learning - a much more important question than what I am learning. Thoughts before I go By Mary Emily B. Wells Grade 10, Chelan, Wash. The cold of the earth chills me as I lie on my back in the cradle of Cloudy Pass. All is silent. I cannot hear so much as the breathing of my classmates who rest beside me. The night has come and darkness surrounds us. The Big Dipper is hung in place next to the North Star and an orange crescent moon is reclining lazily over the Suiattle Valley. "We will head back to camp once the moon has set," says my teacher. I take in a deep breath of clean, night air and sigh. I do not want to leave. The moon is slowly starting to relax into the mountains. I wish it would slow down, or stop. I am not ready to go back. Somehow, in leaving this pass, I leave something else behind. It means our backpacking trip is almost over, and it marks the beginning of my last year at Holden Village. Saying goodbye to these ponderosas and huckleberries, these marmots and mice, these mountains and valleys, is a goodbye to my natural habitat. My wish came true, the moon seems to have been suspended above the blue mountains. Maybe it will never set, the time to leave will never come. I smile and snuggle down into my ideas like a child in her comfort blanket. "The moon isn't moving as quickly as it seems it was. We need to head back to camp, it is getting late." My teacher's voice interrupts my thoughts. I decide if I'm perfectly still they may forget me and leave me, at least until morning. I hold my breath. "Coming, Emily?" someone asks. Tears come uncontrollably, but I allow myself to be helped to my feet. I follow the group down the trail. I don't care where I am going. I only know I am abandoning a place of order and peace, where the stars know what constellation they are a part of, rocks meet like puzzle pieces to form mountains and valleys, pikas know which holes are safe and which are not. I am walking away from the place where I, too, am at home, encircled by it all. Teens Interested in writing for us? We are always looking for students in middle and high school to write 300-word essays on topics that interest them. To contribute an essay, e-mail learning@csps.com or, write to The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA, 02115.

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