By David Kelly-Hedrick, Literary Thinking Faculty & Experiential Education Coordinator
THERE IS MUCH ABSURDITY IN THIS WORLD. I myself am prone to drop the name of a random creature into a piece of writing as a signal to slow down, meditate, and recognize some of this absurdity of things. This past year at Eastside Prep, everyone took an extended Experience Beyond the Classroom (EBC). All of us—students, faculty, and staff (except for a few essential staff)—were learning, teaching, and connecting in a fully remote and distant manner. I am not sure many students would consider it to be like an EBC trip. For some of us, the remote experience is still continuing; for others, we returned in a hybrid or part-time fashion. This is still evolving now as I submit a draft to the editors—and now again, weeks later, as you read it in a published format.
In school and academia, there frequently exists a barrier between us and the subjects of our study. These barriers might be time, distance, walls, a velvet theatre curtain, glass containers, a pixilated screen, or any other number of limitations that hinder or prevent us from being proximal to our subject at hand. We seek to bridge this distance by using labs, simulations, readings, performances, and other methodologies to learn. But the true EBC trip or project is a lively and awesome chance for students to get up close and personal, to close the distance or break down these barriers. We want their senses in as close or direct contact with the study subjects as possible, and we do this by visiting new places and partaking in immersive experience. We wish to taste regional cuisine directly. We want to walk the streets of foreign cities. We marvel at exotic flora and fauna. EBC is a shared experience of being proximal and doing it with fellow students and faculty from the school.
This shared experience is the heart of storytelling. We experience together and then talk, tell, reflect, and interpret what happened. Perhaps we disagree on a detail of a hawk we saw while hiking in that canyon. You think it was a red-tailed hawk, and I believe we saw a goshawk, yet there is no question it was a raptor and together we shared the awe of seeing it soar. Certain memorable stories from these trips, we will turn over, retelling, reimagining, and re-enjoying for the rest of our lives.
Our aim for EBC Week is to create these incredible and lasting memories. We strive for memorable and lasting experiences that transcend time and distance; we hope for experiences that will add meaning or value, perhaps new purpose, to our lives. A great shared experience happens with the openness, risk-taking, and full engagement of our students, not to mention the financial, emotional, and other support of parents, relatives, and families back home.
Like everything else in the world, Eastside Prep’s EBC program was upended this past year. For 2020, we canceled sixteen different global and domestic trips for students and gave everyone an extra week of spring vacation. No Galapagos. No Japan. No Death Valley. No Ashland. No Orkila. A number of staff and faculty worked diligently to gain refunds, future trip credits, and airline vouchers. Overall, EBC Week was a minor casualty in the world of pandemic change and upheaval, but as a core part of the student experience here, it is one that we mourned losing for our community.
In 2021, we are moving cautiously to reinvigorate, create, and deliver an EBC Week experience for these uncertain times. It is a fabulous gift to be handed an open-ended week for the entire student and faculty body and be allowed to offer whatever might be the most engaging and fruitful experiences we can imagine. Factors like infection rates and public health guidelines are shifting and changing on a near daily basis. Ideas for an adaptive EBC Week program were tossed out, considered, and shelved; new ones emerged; the collective conversation continued in small groups, formal meetings, and one-on-ones. We missed the loud and valuable creativity and camaraderie of the great faculty table in the LPC.
Finally, we knew in early 2021 that we needed to commit to something that we could pull off with a reasonable expectation of success despite these variables. Like many of us living in quarantine, we looked closer to home to discover the richness available in our own backyards, to some local sites of fascination and interest in greater King County. We sought out some experts, some guides, and some cool community partners.
We started imagining how we might approach and access such places and things in smaller pods of students and faculty, while we also tried to figure out how to honor the personal and familial needs both of those who wish to remain safe and secure in their homes.
One of my own great EBC Week memories is running straight up a small mountain in eastern Oregon through underbrush, racing against Mr. Fassino and a couple of our current seniors, Tristan and Catherine. We were all gasping for breath yet laughing as we clambered through scratchy heather and salal, slipping and sliding on scree, and scampering with hands and feet to be the first one to the top. This was a small, unnamed mountain amongst many higher, more prominent peaks in the Hells Canyon Recreation Area, but we had decided it was our destination for an extra hike, partly to explore and partly to perform reconnaissance for where we were headed the next day with the whole group. And then one of us (Mr. Fassino likely) suggested the idea of a race to the top. I did not arrive first but finally pulled myself up there, laughing and crying at the same time, and we all turned around and marveled at the view of the Snake River and this wilderness from our small prominence. Mr. Fassino might represent this experience in the following manner:
EXERTION + SMALL GROUP + CHALLENGE + NATURE
+ SOLAR RAYS + LAUGHTER = A GLOWING EXPERIENCE
I would call this one of those amazing, stellar experiences in the wilderness with young people and one that I am unlikely to forget the rest of my life. This is a goal of EBC.
Thinking about being indoors, being remote, being safe for all sorts of reasons, I am reminded of Eudora Welty’s line to a student interviewer, “A sheltered life can be a daring life, as a daring life comes from within.” It makes me wonder what kind of daring our students are up to. What kind of daring can come, is coming, and will come from the remote experiences of our students in this global emergency? They may not know for decades or longer the true learnings and take-aways that they will carry from these days. How it might shape and polish their character and personalities. How it will forge and remake their generation in the world. How it will affect their future ways of travel, relationships, work, home life, and other aspects of living. I am grateful for the opportunity to be in partnership with students and faculty in planning and undertaking our EBC Week experiences and in that effort at trying to get closer, more immediate, more present with whatever is the there there that we all keep yearning to reach and encounter. Banana slug. I am not certain how close we get but certainly there is great fun and grand adventure in the trying. Part of our work as teachers is to nudge toward wonder and encourage the daring life both within and without.
For 2021, a huge shout-out and thanks to Kim Richards and Paul Hagen for all their incredible work and support for student well-being in general and for amazing strategic and logistical planning with EBC Week in particular. Several students and parents contributed community contacts and ideas for our EBC projects in 2021. Thank you parents and students for your support, and also to the many beloved faculty colleagues who offered advice and real contacts for forging this latest (greatest?) batch of EBC Week trips and projects of this spring. Power onwards, great people!