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by 2020 Shabazz Graduate Erin Price

erin_price.jpgI believe in the power of doing, trying new things, and seeking discomfort. Experiential learning is the best way to discover and grow. But beforehand, I believe it is important to set personal intentions to expand limits and create intentionality. Being intentional and thoughtful before rushing into anything has the power to change everything. Without it, experiences seem lost and memories fade. I believe reflecting on experiences afterward to gain new knowledge and deepen understanding is important as well. I believe reflecting on new experiences has the power of enlightenment and with that, reflection can change the future.

During my high school career at an alternative school I was involved in my school community, in many experiential learning trips and a variety of volunteering opportunities. I didn’t have a grade point average, I didn’t have a long list of advanced placement credits or honors classes, and I wasn’t graded on my test taking ability or my memorization skills. Rather, the main focus of my high school was offering an experiential education. I attended an alternative school because I wanted that alternative and hands-on learning.

I had an education where we built a community and tight friendships while overcoming a conflict in the middle of a kayaking trip in the Kickapoo Valley. I learned math through collecting river velocity data in waders and I learned science through Project Green Teen (PGT) labs and wilderness exploration. PGT is a cluster of classes in which a small group of students learn about ecology, not only in the classroom, but also through snowshoeing, caving, hiking, restoration projects, fishing, photography, writing, and so much more. We incorporate math, science, English, and history into our study of the environment. We learned to appreciate and understand our environment while enjoying nature. It is an experience that no other school in my school district offers.

I wanted to provide service for my community by building a compost and placing bins and signage to educate my peers throughout the school. My education was what I made it. High school was where I learned a deeper understanding of independence, setting intentions, and the power of doing. I learned history by visiting the Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and hearing their story. I worked closely with native families and I was able to speak with community elders about their people, the reservation, and their history. I wanted to attend a school where we are out in the community learning more often than in our classroom read through a textbook. I wanted an education where I felt safe to voice my opinion and could reflect on our experiences. I learned to value a good discussion, to appreciate other people’s opinions, especially when they differ from my own. I learned to speak, using my own unique thoughts, not just what I think others want to hear. My experiential and service learning classes have brought many opportunities to overcome challenges.

I’ve had many great experiential learning opportunities in school but also through volunteering. I volunteered locally in food pantries, community gardens, and at a hands-on children's museum. I have volunteered in far away places such as Costa Rica, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and in the Kickapoo Valley of Wisconsin. Though all of these experiences I have learned so much. I have learned about different cultures and different lifestyles. I have always felt that volunteering has helped me find my place in the world. My volunteering experience has allowed me to meet people with different lives that I wouldn't normally stop on the street to have a conversation with. Volunteering has helped keep my privilege in check too. I really appreciate seeing the differences in people and I feel like without all of the volunteer experiences I've had I would be a different person, and for the worse. I have learned to grow through challenges, seek discomfort, and appreciate new experiences. Doing is where I am able to learn the most.

Now more than ever, in these uncertain times when world pandemics are forcing social distancing, people are drawn toward social media and less human interaction. I believe hands-on-learning and experiential education in nature will be more important than ever for the next generations of youth. And, that is where I want my future to take me. I want to help kids get access to activities that will help them understand and appreciate the beauty and potential of the natural world around them. Basically, I want to teach kids outdoor education through experiential learning. It feels like the right way, and the only way to teach outdoor education. In doing this, hopefully they will learn something about themselves and how they fit into the world. I want to take my high school experience and give back to our future youth the best way I know how. I believe, this is what I was made to do.