Woolman Blog

by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - May 20, 2016

What kind of governance system do we actually have? This was our guiding question for one of the last units of the semester in Global Thinking class. The common narrative of today's society often purports that the US is one of the world's leaders in democracy. In the spirit of critical analysis, students questioned this rhetoric and upon deeper examination discovered that in fact our government is far from a pure democracy. True democracy involves each person within the governed community having one vote to participate in decisions that will affect them, and each of those votes being held with equal weight. While we may vote for specific measures or ballot questions within our local district each November, in general in the US we vote to elect representatives, which makes this country a democratic republic, meaning we pick somebody else to make decisions for us.

Ok, so we're not exactly a pure democracy, even though we rarely acknowledege this publicly. But our goverment functions pretty effectively right? Well, that depends on how we measure effectiveness. If we're aiming for a government where everyone who will be affected by a decision has agency in having their voice heard in that decision, then our "democracy" (or even democratic republic) falls quite short of effective. Having studied the Prison Industrial Complex, the enormous wealth gap, and immigration justice earlier in the semester, we know that far too many people in the US do not have agency in contributing to our government. You can't vote if you're in jail, you can't vote if you don't have full citizenship, in many states you can't vote if you don't have the right kind of ID, heck if your boss doesn't give you the day off on the Tuesday of voting day or your designated polling place is so far from your house or work that you'd lose wages just to go vote, you might not have access to our "democracy".

If so many people are marginalized from voting, then who's making all the decisions? Those who can vote definitely have influence in choosing elected officials, but our current political and legal systems give some people more influence than others. Supreme Court cases like the one that supported Citizens United granted giant corporations the ability to dump endless amounts of money into political campaigns. Not only does this provide extensive resources for a particular candidate to increase their advertising and outreach to attract voters, but if elected that candidate often has to answer to the desires of the corporation(s) that sponsor them. Thus our elected officials are not necessarily representing us in the way we desire. Our continued research in class revealed that the US is in fact more of an oligarchy than even a democratic republic. An oligarchy is a system where very few elites actually hold most of the influence and power. If you'd like to know more about it, check this out: https://mic.com/articles/87719/princeton-concludes-what-kind-of-government-america-really-has-and-it-s-not-a-democracy?utm_source=policymicFB&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social#.JxSAab9Tq.

Rather than simply being outside bystanders learning about the ways people can engage with our political system, students took action and contacted one of their representatives to make sure their voices were heard as constituents from their district. We researched our elected officials to see how we felt about their platform and determine whether we felt that they actually represented us well, offering both gratitude for policies that were in line with our values and also offering critique and suggestions of what we wanted them to do differently. Check out a few students' letters to their elected officials:



After this somewhat shocking reality check (although I must say given what we'd learned about the growth of corporate power these days it wasn't completely surprising to hear that the US is actually an oligarchy) the universal powers at be provided us with a fabulous opportunity to see politics in action! Smack dab in the middle of our unit on governance, who rolls into town but Bernie Sanders himself! We took a field trip to Sacramento to be part of an exciting rally to support Bernie and hear from him how he plans to not only bring our government back towards a legitimate democracy, but also decrease the wealth gap, increase access to education and healthcare, and fight for racial justice among other progressive initiatives. Check out the photos!

And above all, regardless of who you support, if you have the agency and ability don't forget to vote!!!

by Adrian Struck, Student, Spring 2016 - May 4, 2016

This past week we spotlighted a student who is attending the Spring 2016 Semester — Here are some of the things Adrian has experienced so far. Adrian is from Cuernavaca, Mexico and has fell into the Woolman Community seamlessly.

On Coming to Woolman:

I came to woolman, I wasn’t feeling good back home in the regular school where i was studying, I felt bored in my current program because I wasn’t doing the things I loved. I decided to come to Woolman and find myself and what my passions were, and to have 1 semester to really connect with myself and see what I really want to do in my life.

On transitioning from Mexico:

Coming from a different country, it was a good transition. It’s like living in 2 different worlds; in Mexico they have a different way of acting and thinking, and seeing both perspectives gives you a whole new sense of how humans interact with each other.  It was easy for me; you need to be willing to come here with an open mind and willing to learn a whole new way of living and thinking that will change you for ever.

Living at Woolman:

Living at Woolman has been so far one of the best experience in my life, I’ve learned so much about myself and changed so much, everyday i’m happy to be here, I love to see the woods everyday, I love nature, it’s great to be in full contact with nature. Living in community you always have someone to talk to — it’s like a big family that supports you, every person here is an amazing human being. It’s great to hear about their amazing stories.

The classes are incredible and the teachers are the best I’ve ever had in my life, you can see that they really love the work that they are doing — they really want to be a teacher and you can see that through their classes.

Leaving Woolman Thoughts:

I would recommend Woolman to people who want to connect to themselves. Woolman has changed me a lot. I’m kind of a new person I now know what my passions are  — Woolman gives a great real life experience. I’ll miss the staff members, students, this place — and walking everyday for a half hour in the woods.

by Sara De Roy, Student Spring 2016 - May 2, 2016

There is no such thing as a typical weekend at Woolman. Much of them are spent talking with classmates, going for walks, eating food, watching movies, and doing homework - pretty much like weekends at home. Every weekend, our fabulous interns schedule something for us to do. There have been Capture the Flag games, trips to the grocery store, and walks outside. Other times, we have more out-of-the-ordinary activities. We’ve gone to a Lunar New Year festival, had a dance party, attended a yoga class, and spent hours making rice and nut milk. Here’s an overview of what I was up to this weekend.


8:17: Breakfast in the Dining Hall. We have brunch on weekends so if we are up earlier, breakfast is up to us,  but that’s not a problem - in the walk-in we have delicious leftovers from the Seder dinner that we made with last night.

10:07: A trip to the laundry room. Not a favorite task of mine, but I really need a clean towel.

11:13: Heading off with Hilary, our NVC teacher, for a hike to the Yuba! We did this hike our first week here and I’ve been wanting to do again since, but this is the first time that someone has been available to take me.

2:56: We’re back! Time for a snack (leftover miso soup), sending some materials off to a college, and meeting a future student.

4:48: A stroll up to Mel’s Pond. The students have been planning a cookout for a while and we have the rare treat of having hamburgers.

8:02: Chatting with a visiting alumnus. He came six semesters ago, but still comes back every semester.

8:35: A much-needed shower.

10:29: Journaling in bed. A bunch of my classmates are watching a movie in the Meeting House but I’m too tired for anything but nesting on my top bunk.


8:40: More Seder leftovers for breakfast - and a long chat with Gray’s dad about history, math, and genetics.

10:01: Making brunch with an intern and a classmate. Trying to figure out the gluten-free vegan pancakes is a bit of a struggle but everyone seems to like it - maybe it’s all the whipped cream and stewed fruit we put out with them…

1:03: Helping Charlotte in the garden. I spray two and half rows of infant red peppers with Dr. Bronner’s - to kill aphids - and help her weave a blackberry trellis.

3:38: Homeworking. We’re making “Occucards” for Global Thinking class. Mine is on free community college - on the front there’s a drawing of a community college diploma with a “$0.00” price tag.

5:36: Dinner - mushrooms, quinoa with peas, kale and peppers, cucumbers with tomatoes, and hummus - followed by dish crew in our industrial sized kitchen.

7:05: Blog post writing, followed by watching one of the interns get her head shaved!

8:52: Video chatting with friends back home.

10:21: Bedtime!

by Brianna Beyrooty, Staff, Maya Horton, Farm to Table Intern - April 28, 2016

Woolman meals rival your local five star restaurant, and leave you wanting more, but luckily there is always more...

Living at Woolman has it perks, but if you ask where the real heart of the school is, it isn't hard to find; The kitchen is warm and enticing, overwhelming and easy, and over the stove and inside the oven, between stirs and blends, you cook with others, and this is where the magic happens. 

Here are a few photos of what a week of eating looks like at Woolman! Enjoy- and if you really want, stop by for a meal!

1.Sauteed Sesame Kale, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, and Local Grass Fed Beef with Red Sauce

2.  Shaksuka, Sauteed Cabbage and Kale, French Fries

3. Fresh Baked Bread (by our students!), Coconut Milk Corn Chowder, and Vegan Cashew Cheesecake

4. Vegan Gluten Free Black Bean Burger, Chickpea Salad with Sweet Potato and Mint

We are so grateful for access to organic and local food, sometimes even from our own garden and orchard!  Meals at the Woolman Semester School are made by us, the WHOLE community! Each meal has 3-4 designated community members (students, interns, and staff) to make a meal! We love learning about new recipes, ingredients, and food from different cultures, and as always, we are happy to take requests!

by Andrew Sellery, Ceramics Teacher - March 21, 2016

Greetings from the clay room!

It has been quite the journey this Semester as students searched their own way in expressing themselves in clay. Students always excited in the beginning to explore something fun, soon arrive at the reality that new things have there own very challenging aspects in the learning curve. All students have indeed found their way through this process and are really ready to blossom in the journey of self expression.
We have arrived at the mid point of our Semester in Ceramics, and it was shared in a magical night of Raku! So wonderful to watch a student body so boldly step up to the challenges Raku demands. Presented with extreme heat and smoke, their red hot clay art was deftly tonged to the reduction cans with great teamwork. Raku is such a wonderful dance of movement demanding each participant be thoughtful of their position and job in the Raku process. Everyone did great!

So excited for the second half of this Semester and confident each student will be ready to step up to the challenges presented them, and finish the Semester a little bit closer to understanding their own artful voice.
Enjoy these photos from last Friday's Raku event!
by Annika Alexander-Ozinskas, Environmental Science Teacher - March 18, 2016

Our land at Woolman is steadily changing and blooming with the onset of spring. Last week, we were inundated with rain - our creeks rose, and the South Yuba became a torrent of churning, brown runoff. In environmental science, we are learning about the inner workings of the natural world through observing the constant change around us. In the past month we have talked about global warming, the greenhouse effect, fossil fuels, oceans, bees, and fungi: all topics requested by students. For 4 days we journeyed from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific Ocean to explore the role that water plays in ecosystems all along the way. Our group was especially enchanted by learning about the historic salmon runs in our watershed; by wandering around an old growth redwood forest; and learning about whales while sheltering from gale force winds in the Pt. Cabrillo lighthouse.

We continue to study water by observing the ebbs and flows in the waterways around Woolman. Along with water, we have been observing the flora and fauna in our ecosystem, the life that water makes possible here. Besides class field trips, students are going into the woods around Woolman on their own with field journals to record what they experience. Here are some photos that current student, Adrian Struck, has captured on campus: 


Here are a few selections from our class journals to give you a taste of what students have seen in the foothills this past month:

“Whiteleaf manzanita. We have lots of these at Woolman, but up here they look greener. I think it’s because they’re wetter in this cooler, rainier climate. The leaves are egg-shaped and green with golden edges. The little flowers are pink and taste super fantastic, so sweet.” –Lucia Sedoo

“The feeling of bugs on your face and ears. Meditated and tried to become one with the muddy pond. I observed tadpoles, newts, even frogs for a while. How spiders were crawling on my hands and knees and at that moment I had let go of my big fears towards these small insects.” –Bryan Mejia

“Stream in the ravine. Went through clearing to get here. Amazing luck! Started walking along stream and a huge dark red and orange newt swam right by me! Probably at least six or seven inches from nose to tip of tail. Beautiful dark velvet red with orange underside. Saw another when I walked a few feet upstream. A third making its way steadily upstream. Fourth one walking on an island made of rocks in the middle of stream. Disturbed one by bumping a rock, it swam away. It’s lighter red than the others. Another lying motionless in the stream. Another more orange one right below my sit spot, as well as two mating. The two mating are rolling over a lot. Showing their stomachs and undersides. Wait! There are three in the mating jumble! Color doesn’t seem to be a function of their gender. Two of the newts who are actually mating keep trying to deter/exclude the third, which I’m guessing is a male. I wonder how their reproductive systems work?” –Tara Padovan

“Himalayan blackberry. The stem and branches are a deep burgundy. The leaves are dark green. The branches are alternating and fairly regularly spaced (every 2-4 in). The stem is about a centimeter in circumference at its widest, though it narrows toward the middle and at one end. Both ends appear anchored into the ground, growing near rocks. The leaves grow in clusters of 2 to 5. Most of the leaves are cut or shriveling. Thorns, which grow in no set pattern, are ubiquitous along the branch and stems. The thorns have wide bases, which taper into sharp points. The thorns are burgundy at the base a yellow-tan shade at the tip. There is no discernable smell, but the thorns stop me from wanting to get my face too close.

The creek is calmer today, though it seems to have picked up over the last 10 minutes. Two clusters of foam have formed under the rock that I am sitting on. It’s 7:26, and the sun is not yet visible but it seems to be rising quickly. A patch of the moss seems to have come off; it was ailing before and now it looks like it has been sloughed off in places. I don’t see any newts, but they are the same reddish-brown color as the rocks lining the creek, so they might be camouflaged. The creek is slightly lower that its been before; I barely had to worry about getting my feet dirty as I walked to my rock. The creekbed is full of rocks, mostly large ones that are exposed and dry on top. Dry pine needles are on top of them - long (10+ in) needles that are clustered in threes. A banana slug is perched on top of one rock. Either it just appeared or I just noticed it.” –Sara De Roy

by Charlotte Lippincott, Farm to Table Manager - March 17, 2016
This week in Farm to Table class, we explored coevolution, fermentation and the gut!
The human microbiome is arguably understated, considering how central it is to our experience of health, wellness and life itself. The gut assimilates the food we eat into nutrients while also moderating our immunity, detoxification, brain development, energy levels, cell regeneration, and countless other body systems. As such, these crafty little inhabitants of our microvilli serve as the mediators between our selves and the world around us. They also constitute a world within us: scientists believe that at least half of the cells in our body belong to microbes, constituting over 10,000 species. So when you “trust your gut”, you are taking advice from trillions upon trillions of microbial voices. Our microbiome is amazing!
After getting better acquainted with our microcosmic counterparts, we discussed the benefits of fermentation and made kimchi, a traditional fermented Korean side dish. Students split into stations and chopped and grated napa cabbage, green onions, carrots, daikon radish, garlic and ginger. Together we salted and massaged the veggies with chili flakes and pack them tightly into jars, to be shared after spring break. We tasted kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, and some homemade pickled limes; it's always exciting to watch students react to new tastes, or see their eyes light up with familiar flavors. Fermented foods have a more profound place in our diet than many may realize; cheese, yogurt and kefir, coffee, bread, beer and wine, soy sauce and most other condiments, pickles and some meats and fish we have subsisted on, thanks to the process of fermentation, for thousands of years. Only relatively recently has Western culture waged a war against bacteria, and within our current industrialized food model we are increasingly disconnected from the process of growing, preparing, preserving, healing and connecting through our food.  

As we explore fermentation in Farm to Table class, we find so many ways in which it connects to our greater values of peace, justice and sustainability.  The process of fermentation is an opportunity to reconnect with our food, our communities, and our own power to heal. It creates a space to celebrate food stories and locate ourselves within many intertwined, rich cultural histories. It is an opportunity to reconfigure our roles as consumers in a fragile, fossil-fueled, sterilized, capitalist food model. And it is an opportunity to proactively support the health of our body systems and communities outside of the pharmaceutical-dominated biomedical model. 

And it is a chance to share good company, microbial and human alike!
by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - March 11, 2016

A century of water control, a decade of conflict, a round table of perspectives. Last week in Global Thinking class we simulated a mediation circle of the Klamath River Dam Conflict. Based on student research on the issue, our simulation examined the multitude of perspectives that contribute to the ongoing struggles of the Klamath River basin along the border of California and Oregon. The Klamath River has been dammed for over a century, and as the leases on several of the dams begin to expire the future of the dams, and thus the future of the landscape and health of the river basin, are brought into question. We took to the task of analyzing the options: to dam or not to dam?

In preparation for the simulated mediation, students first outlined all of the parties involved in the conflict. This included local fisherfolk, indigenous communities, industrial agriculture enterprises, state and national governments, and Pacificorp, the giant corporation who built the dams for hydro-electricity. We then broke into small groups to dig further into the perspectives of each party involved. We found that the dams have affected each party in unique ways. If the dams remain, ecosystems would continue to be altered and salmon populations would be further endangered, threatening the livelihoods of the already marginalized indigenous communities that have lived along the river for generations. If the dams come down, large-scale farms and ranches up stream would lose a hefty portion of their irrigation source. And who would fund the removal or refurbishing of the dams?

It was incredible to watch students come alive as they took on the roles of those affected by the decision. Fisherfolk went head to head with Big Ag; representatives of indigenous communities called on the government to uphold their protective agreements; even Mother Nature herself had a voice at the table! To say that the simulation was exciting would be an understatement. As a perfectly appropriate mirror to the reality of the issue, we were of course unable to come to consensus in a mere class period. The activity nonetheless provided a powerful demonstration of the intersection between multiple perspectives, systemic violence, media literacy, environmental justice and other themes we've been exploring in class throughout the semester. And it was a wonderful segway into the water trip the following weekend where students put theoretical learning into practice!

Photo Caption: Students gather with local river scientist, Chris Friedel, at Englebright Dam to discuss hyrdraulic mining and the impact on Yuba salmon populations.

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - March 9, 2016

On Saturday, Feb 27th, Wounded Knee Liberation Day, Woolman students took action in solidarity with students across the country to demand clemency for American Indian Movement hero Leonard Peltier. Earlier this semester, a dear friend of mine in Albuquerque invited me to take up this national call to action. I was excited to learn about the National Student Day of Action for healing and justice and brought the proposal to the students who enthusiastically took up the call. 


Leonard Peltier was active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and fought against oppression and injustice of Indigenous People in the United States. Over 40 years ago, he was wrongfully convicted in the death of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Peltier is a political prisoner and a victim of the FBIs COINTELPRO program, which used imprisonment as a tool to silence radical movement leaders. Peltier’s health is currently failing and he does not have adequate access to healthcare. Peltier’s critical health issue paired with it being Obama’s last year in office makes now the time for Peltier to finally be granted clemency.

To prepare for the action we watched videos, read articles and letters, and discussed the importance of Leonard Peltier’s freedom.  Organizing started with a group of 6 of us one evening around a table in the dining hall. We decided to go to the state’s capitol of Sacramento to march with "Clemency Now for Peltier" banners, chants, signs, flyers, and postcards to Obama.  Some of us organized an art party to make signs and banners and listened to Free Leonard Peltier: Hip Hop's Contribution to the Freedom Campaign.

Thanks to a Woolman alumni, we learned of another Indigenous solidarity action happening in Sacramento that same day so we started the day by joining them. The Apache Stronghold organized a powerful Save Oak Flat march and rally in solidarity with the San Carlos Apache to protect their sacred ancestral homeland that is being threatened by an international copper mining company. After marching to the capitol and many powerful conversations with Save Oak Flat protesters, students headed to the Farmers Market to start demonstrating for clemency.  They then marched up J street with chanting: “One: We want justice. Two: for Leonard Peltier. Three: Clemency Now!” Check out this photo album from the day’s events.

At the end of the day we had collected nearly 60 postcards for Obama! In reflecting on the action, students were grateful for the opportunity to take action and learned a lot about themselves. They gained skills and experience with writing press releases, contacting news outlets, creating banners and signs, doing social media outreach, leading chants, and engaging people on the street to comment and take action.  I asked them to make connections between colonization at home and US imperialism abroad and to critically consider their own role as a group of mainly settlers taking action for indigenous rights.

One of the powerful observations students made was in their comparison of how they were received by different groups of people.  At the farmers market, people were generally not very interested in what students had to say.  At Cesar Chavez Plaza, however, students met many people without homes who were not only interested in what students had to say but appreciative for their action and offered material support for the cause. 

In organizing and taking action, students were able to directly apply the concepts of peace, justice, power, privilege, systemic oppression, violence, allyship, and collective liberation that we have learned about in Peace Studies class. The students are currently organizing their own actions around issues that they are passionate about and/or directly affected by such as mental health, justice for queer and undocumented people, and reproductive rights – stay tuned for updates on those projects. 

If you are reading this, please take the time to email, call 202-456-1111, or write President Obama at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500 to demand clemency now!  For more information about organizing for Peltier's freedom visit: http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/ and watch Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story.

by Carl Sigmond (Spring 09), Operations Manager - December 28, 2015

Reflection and hope have been very alive at Woolman this month. Three weeks ago, we gathered as a wider community (students, interns, staff, Board members, alumni, donors, and F/friends of Woolman) to envision the future of Woolman. Facilitated by Drew Smith, the Executive Director of Friends Council on Education, we spent a weekend reflecting on what Woolman does well, what we can do better, and our hopes for the future of our school. 

We created a list of bold goals for Woolman that build on our strengths and will guide our way to the future. We envision a brighter future with enhanced support for staff, improved facilities, abundant financial resources, robust enrollment, wider sharing of Woolman’s unique curriculum, and ongoing commitment to empowering diverse young people.

There was an energy and an aliveness coming out of the envisioning weekend and a shared sense of hope and readiness to get to work on these goals. We will be forming a steering committee to discern ways forward, to set priorities for Woolman, and to start making our goals realities.

We all shared an intense love for Woolman that weekend, for the land and what we do in community on it, and for the spirit of Woolman that grows more alive and vibrant with each new semester. I was one of two people present during the Envisioning Weekend who had been Woolman Semester students, Woolman interns, and staff members, and I am the only alum currently on full-time staff. Given this relationship with Woolman, it was a true honor for me to participate in this historic event at Woolman, an event that will influence the direction of our school. 

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - December 22, 2015

Every semester the Global Thinking and Peace Studies classes take a weeklong trip to the Bay Area called the Radical Learning for Change Trip (Rad Trip).  The intention of the trip is to connect classroom themes to real examples of people working for peace and social justice as well as for the students to recognize themselves as agents of change.  This Fall we were honored to have trainings, visits, presentations, and engaging workshops with East Point Peace Academy, BAY Peace, Youth Spirit Artworks, American Friends Service Committee, Beehive Collective, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Tri Valley CARES, Casa de Paz, and the Berkeley Poetry Slam.

The following student testimonies were gathered from reflection essays the students wrote for Peace Studies:

“Each student here at Woolman is unique in that they have tapped into their deepest desires to learn, to ask questions, to be vulnerable, and to put themselves in uncomfortable situations in order to understand something bigger than themselves. We practice that here everyday, and it was a truly amazing experience to see that other people are practicing it, too. […] We made our way through the city in our van packed full, learning about Kingian nonviolence, about spreading awareness through art, about the power of youth as changemakers. Each day we became more hopeful of a future we thought we were alone in desiring. In each moment I witnessed my classmates changing before my eyes, saw their fists clench tighter, as if in preparation to fight off all injustices. I wonder if they saw a change in me.” –Sophie Merrill

“Hearing the stories of the organizations we visited really made me value the effort these people put into their work. I think the main thing that I learned on this trip was that the stories are what drive passion. Everything from Casa de Paz to Bay Peace wouldn’t exist without people who care. People whose voices were heard and incited change with art, vigils, acting, and most of all, stories.” –Lena Connolly

“Overall, the RAD Trip filled me with a sense of family, comfort, discomfort, inspiration, grief, empowerment, enlightenment, fatigue, energy, analytical-ness, perception, and an overflow of emotion all at once. This trip was just another milestone of Woolman that has, is, and always will, change my perception of the world, life, justice, and me as a person.” –Victory Amos-Nwankwo

“Going back to my home town and talking about social justice movements made me proud to live in a community that’s about change. This is important to me to acknowledge the importance of how we affect the lives around us and to take action in making that first step to a brighter future.” –Stephon Brewster

“It made me realize that, me as a youth, I have the power to change the systems that oppress people. […] I not only heard people talking about oppression, I got to see it in different forms. I saw it through artivism, I watched it through films, I experienced the feelings, and most inspiringly, I heard it through the stories of those who have been or are victims of oppression. Nothing is more powerful than being exposed to the real side of oppression here in the U.S. Through this experience of the Rad trip I learned there is hope because the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.[…] Throughout the whole Rad trip I’ve collected so much passion, wanting to be the change I want to see in the world by being nonviolent and just being involved. Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” This is the generation to fight for peace and we can't sit there and watch the world go by because that’s saying it's okay for the privileged to oppress the oppressed, and it's not. If we fight, the worst that can happen is that we might lose, but if we don't fight we’ve already lost. The Rad trip really sparked the passion in me to want to fight (with peace). It gave me the passion to want to open everyone's eyes up because we have so much power as the people, we just don't know it.” -Isolde Harpell


Here are student reactions to a few of the specific organizations we visited:

“One of the stops that was the most memorable to me was the East Point Peace Academy, where Kazu, Sima, and Stephanie taught the students and I a new perspective on nonviolence: the Kingian nonviolence. Apparently, when you take the hyphen out of ‘non-violence’ you get ‘nonviolence’, which has a completely different denotation. ‘Non-violence’ is simply the lack of violence, the abstinence from the violence; whereas, ‘nonviolence’ is the action of taking measures to prevent or rid the world of violence in general. This really resonates with me because everyday, there are many who everyday, decide to take the ‘non-violent’ route in life; perhaps it is because that way is simply easier, perhaps it is out of fears. I have also been a part of that crowd that simply stands in the background and who does not engage in the violence, yet makes no move to prevent it; because “if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we're being angry”, and society does not accept people being ‘overly’ passionate about what they believe in.” –Victory Amos-Nwankwo

“Later that day, Woolman visited my art program called Youth Spirit Artworks that works with homeless youth from ages 16 to 25, Youth Spirit Artworks is a place where you can come and do art and have the freedom of expression in an artistic way. Youth Spirit Artworks works with different groups such as Black lives Matter and Mural project. I was filmed for a documentary that’s called lost in America that talks about homeless youth in america and how it impacts their lives. In the process of getting filmed I felt sad having to repeat some of the hardships in my life but at the same time I felt a kind of liberation from my sadness to be able to talk about what my truth is being homeless in America. This experience had given me a voice to express my true strength for what it is and knowing other people was doing the same made me proud of the action I was taking. Being at Youth Spirit Artworks has made me more of a self aware person as far as being able to express myself through art and sharing that with my community makes me feel like an inspiration for others.” –Stephon Brewster

“Aaron’s [IVAW] presentation intrigued me to no end. I liked how he didn’t sugar coat the terrors of war and tried to paint a pretty picture. No, he showed us the atrocities of war, the reasons behind it, the corruption of the entire military. We can’t call it a sensitive topic when people, not terrorists, are being killed by the thousands because of money and resources, or as they say in America “freedom and democracy”.  I understand the way he said things might have made people uncomfortable, but what made me feel uncomfortable wasn’t his language, it was the realization that our country has gotten away with so many murders and no one bats an eye about that. The military is so corrupt it takes up about $598.5 billion (54%) from Discretionary Spending. In all honesty Iraq’s Veteran’s Against the War had the biggest impact on me. I knew some of what he was talking about, but the way Aaron went into detail with things just got me thinking a lot.” –Brian Gil-Rios

“It was amazing how much emotion had flooded into my stomach from realizing that our nation's prison systems are completely unjust. Jerry, who worked for the organization [AFSC], told us a story about how he was in prison for committing a serious crime, and somehow managed to change his direction and become very “successful” in life. I was very inspired about his story, but then I began questioning the treatment of every other person in prison, who potentially could also be contributing to our world. The government and private corporations are throwing people in jail as a solution to an issue, when in reality, the prison system is the issue.” –Maisie Rising

“The final, most prominent theme throughout the RAD Trip was the power of youth intersecting with both stories and art. BAY Peace is a place that intersected all three: youth leadership, art, and storytelling. BAY Peace is a youth organization that studies social justice through theatre of the oppressed. They used artistic improv games to spread awareness of social justice and environmental issues.  By setting up in a park for a performance, they are giving onlookers free access to art and to education about oppression. We played many games relating to gentrification in the area of Oakland. After spending time in Oakland, in the downtown area I could tell that people felt as though their city had been stolen. Their town focused on tourists, on wealthier residents, but not on the people whose whole lives belonged in Oakland. I especially think this is important because several of my classmates here at Woolman live in Oakland. I have noticed the immense pride that they have for their hometown, and I hate that it could be stolen by wealthy people looking to add to their already huge collection of systemic privileges.” –Lena Connolly


Several students made commitments to the change they want to see in the world:

“The moment my passion filled up with rage, was when we came to my hometown, Livermore. The home of the Lawrence Livermore Lab and the Sandia Lab. We visited an organization called Tri Valley CARES that monitors the Lab to make sure it isn’t harming anyone and isn’t polluting our Earth. Also it is to make sure the lab isn’t doing any harmful testings. They are the organization that tests the water, soil, and air in my town to see if it has any harmful chemicals. So far there has been in the past. […] I can’t just go home and live my life day by day without a fear of my water, soil, and air being polluted. That’s why I’m going to join Tri Valley CARES and help end the nuclear testing in my hometown. I want a plutonium free future, so that’s why i'm going to take action with this group.” –Isolde Harpell

“My goal as I emerge from the Woolman cocoon is to continue to push through despair as I learn more about the hard realities of the world, as I strive to empathize with those who are not benefiting from the white privilege I benefit from. I vow to bear witness to and call out injustice even when it is scary, even when it makes me feel anxious or frustrated, even when I make mistakes. There are many ways to do this - maybe I will work through my despair by talking about it, making meaningful connections with people from different cultures or by connecting with nature - the ultimate non-judgmental mother. But I will definitely commit to find balance and not just focus on the negatives but also get in touch with the beauty of differences and culture and society. I will bear witness to and call out both injustice and beauty in the world, and use what I learn to make lasting change in the world.” –Sophie Merrill

“The Radical Learning for Change trip inspired me to find my passion and method in which I can make a change. My goal is to start writing more songs about issues I am passionate about. Sometimes when I am very passionate about something I get a feeling inside of me, nagging me to express this, and I choose music as my method of sharing my opinions. I also have been interested in art therapy because art moves me in a way that is very therapeutic. Art, music, theatre, these are all ways to catch people’s hearts and minds and connect them to the issues that are present in this world and need to be acted upon.” –Sophia Mueller

by Sophia Mueller, Fall '15 student - December 21, 2015
I frequently hear people complaining about their work. Many people don’t want to work or dread having to. However, imagine work being inspiring for you. Fun. Creative. Something you are crazily passionate about. As I write this essay I am in residence at The Woolman Semester School where the mission is “to steward diverse learning communities and educational programs that weave together spirituality, peace, sustainability and social action.” One way these important themes are woven together is through our requirement to participate in shared work. A lot needs to be done around campus; whether it is gardening, stacking firewood, or cooking, there are always opportunities to help out.
Shared work is one of my favorite parts of Woolman because I usually get to work outside in the garden. I love to work closely with the earth. I also love shared work because the whole Woolman community works together to make a comfortable, sustainable, and happy home for us all. There is something powerful about working with other people: I get energy from their motivation, and I can inspire them to keep working by sharing my enthusiasm. When many people work together to do something they care about, it becomes even more meaningful.
I find shared work to be very satisfying. I get to see the results of my work. No, it is not instant gratification, but I can see that what I do matters and has a positive effect. I remember planting radishes one day. Each time I revisited I noticed them getting bigger and heartier, eventually becoming ready to provide us with healthy nutrition. Sure this was more work than going to the supermarket and buying vegetables straight from the shelves, but it was important. We all worked together and had a direct relationship with the earth and our food. Shared effort makes work more meaningful. It connects and motivates people. When I feel deeply inspired to serve a purpose, and when I experience the power of people achieving something important together, work means a lot to me. 
by Charlotte Lippincott, Farm to Table Intern '15-'16 - December 20, 2015
The garden doesn’t lie, but it is especially honest in winter. The dense foliage that a few months ago dressed the earth with life has since receded, revealing the backbone--its essential form. The hedgerows that teemed with colorful perennial flowers and their loyal pollinators when I arrived in August are now pruned back, focusing their energies inward as they bear down for winter. The last of the fall plot gleams each morning with frost, and the sturdy, determined garlic push their bright green sprouts upward. 
My first week working in the Woolman garden, when this whole place was still unfamiliar territory, I cleaned tomatoes with the renowned farm apprentice Brianna. I remember us slogging through the thick forest of tomato vines, cutting off the discolored sunburnt ones and piling them into our wheelbarrows in the sweltering afternoon sun. Sweat streaked through the substantial film of dirt that comfortably clung to my entire body. But Brianna and I fell into conversation easily, bringing a lightness that made the hours pass more quickly. By the time we finished, we were itchy, sticky, scratched up, exhausted, and satisfied. 
Now staring at the same field, unassuming cover crop grows where those proud tomatoes once reigned. Bri has since gone on to Portland, to do amazing and important things. August in my memory feels distant, because of the abundance of experiences that have happened, and continue to unfold each day. I am constantly learning from the garden and the connections that are made within its fences. I covet the hours spent by myself rocking back and forth on a broadfork, exploring my thoughts and admiring the subtle, graceful systems happening below my feet. I am equally, forever grateful for the mornings spent with the intern work crews, cleaning carrots and picking beets and spilling our souls to each other, or reframing my entire worldview with Maggie as we bunch chard.  The garden extends an invitation to embrace change, and seek continuity and meaning within these cycles of growth. It is not hard to find metaphors that apply to your own life.
As the semester draws to a close, the air is heavy with nostalgia for the present moment, while stirring with anticipation for a winter of rest, reflection and going home. It feels fitting that the garden is slowing down, drawing itself inward, as if to mirror this introspection and reconnection with roots. I hope this winter presents for us all an opportunity to rest, heal and reflect with honesty, and prepare for another vibrant season. 
by Andrew Sellery, Ceramics Teacher - December 16, 2015
Another Semester is winding down, and what a Semester it was in the clay room The kick wheels were met with great enthusiasm as always, but this was short lived as the need to express creatively soon took hold and the class shifted into the world of sculpture. I love to see where a class' direction can shift, and this Semester resided in the world of imaginary creatures, puzzled portraits and totem animals. Raku firings were a hit, as the flames and luster glazes simply added to the edgy attitude most sculptures begged to find a finish to match the nature of the piece itself. Needless to say, as an instructor the Semester was much like a Disneyland ride, filled with fun, fantasy and joyful artful sharing.
by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - December 16, 2015
What a profound final Global Thinking class on Friday! The course came full circle when we revisited an activity that we did in the first week of the semester. This second version of the Web of Interconnection demonstrated not only how the causes and solutions to many global issues are intertwined, but also how much the students have learned and critically analyzed in the last four months. I am always elated by hearing Woolman students explain how globalization, the school-to-prison pipeline, the Prison Industrial complex, capitalism, corporate dominance, democracy, oligarchy, foreign aid, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and the importance of hearing multiple perspectives show up in our society.
As a teacher I find that learning is most ‘sticky’ and concepts are best absorbed when the topics we explore go beyond the classroom. Our study of the Prison Industrial Complex is a great example of this. We began by reading a chapter from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in order to theoretically understand how the criminal justice system in the US is a modern day method of marginalizing people of color from society, particularly low income men of color, just as slavery and later Jim Crow laws did mere decades ago. 
We deepened our understanding of the systemic racism and classism inherent in today's Prison Industrial Complex during our Radical Learning for Change trip to Oakland and San Francisco. We met with Jerry Elster and Laura Magnani who work in solidarity with incarcerated people to implement Restorative Justice as a system of healing and to educate people outside the prison system of the injustices and harm caused by the Prison Industrial Complex. It was incredibly powerful to hear from them first hand about what it’s like to work at the grassroots level as agents of change. 
As part of the Global Thinking Projects Class, students made documentaries about a social justice topic of their choice. Three students made a documentary about support available to incarcerated people after they leave prison, and they interviewed Jerry Elster while we were in San Francisco to gain another important perspective on ways to decrease recidivism in the prison system.
If you’re interested in getting a deeper taste of Global Thinking class and understanding how racism and corporatism play into the Prison Industrial Complex, check out these two resources that we examine in class. The first is an interview with Michelle Alexander and the second is an exploration of how prisons are increasingly becoming for-profit entities. I am extremely grateful to this semester’s students for the incredible deep thinking, reflection, and intellectual growth that I have observed from them. Thank you for bringing your strength and your knowledge out into the greater world!
by Gray Horwitz, Head of School - December 12, 2015

I am consistently amazed each semester by the creativity and effort that students put into their projects. After so many years of projects, it seems like they might all have been done, but students always find a new topic or a unique angle to examine.

This semester, Lena delved into where our food comes from and how much food we compost/waste. Many of our vegan products come from far away, bringing into question the environmentalism of being vegan (at least at Woolman, where most of our other products are as local as possible). Sophia studied paper waste at Woolman, taking on several small projects. Below, she is displaying a “How Paper is Made” poster, collaged from junk mail collected over the course of her project. Adrian, Lee, and Brian worked on fixing up bikes to provide a sustainable method of transportation. Sophie researched screen use, interviewing folks from different generations and perspectives.


There were a couple more projects on the tour — Cleaning trash off Woolman trails and researching the intersection of Quakerism and Sustainability. It was a wonderful showcase of student work, and we hope you can join in person next time!

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - December 7, 2015

In Peace Studies class, students have been learning about intersecting systems of oppression and organized resistance movements.  One of our focuses is to debunk the creation myths of the United States Empire, which was founded on genocide and slavery.  In projects class, students have been studying Native American rights, the impacts of continued colonization, and contemporary resistance movements centered on indigenous leadership.  Earlier this semester, we attended an annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration in Nevada City organized by the Tsi Akim Maidu.  As Thanksgiving approached, we organized a banner drop in Nevada City to shed light on the true history of Thanksgiving.  While we deeply value family gatherings and giving thanks, we wanted to encourage fellow settlers to reflect upon the origins of this holiday and how it is a time of reflection and mourning for many.  With consultation from some Native American friends, the students came up with the phrase: “Happy Thankstaking! Ask Native Americans what they think” 


Despite pouring rain, spirits were high and students were full of passion and energy the day of the banner drop.  We were met with many supportive honks.  In addition to hanging the banner, students passed out the following article to passersby and local businesses: 6 Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know by Vincent Schilling.  In reflecting on the banner drop, students felt powerful taking action and felt it was something they could easily do on their own with a sheet, paint, scissors and a friend.  In reflecting further on the message, we felt that “ask them” can be homogenizing and puts the burden on Native Americans to educate, and so we could have focused more on settler responsibility.  We also asked the critical question of who are we accountable to in taking action and how do we build deeper relations with local indigenous organizations to center their leadership in any solidarity work.

by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - October 29, 2015


This week in Global Thinking we've been exploring free market capitalism, both in theory and practice. We began by examining the economic model developed by Milton Friedman, who is considered the father of modern-day capitalism, that is rooted in voluntary exchanges based on mutual benefit of all parties involved. From there we dug a bit deeper to analyze how competition, privitization, innovation, wealth, and other key concepts of capitalism play a role in today's global economic system. To get a bit of a historical context, and since learning is always more powerful when we can relate it back to the greater world, students read a chapter from Naomi Klein's award-winning bestseller The Shock Doctrine which describes how Pinochet rose to dictatorial power in Chile in the 1970s. With the help of the US government, the CIA, and Milton Friedman himself, Pinochet overthrew democratically elected president Salvador Allende and imposed free market capitalism, privitizing many sectors of the economy and causing an ubrupt spike in inflation, unemployment, and incredible wealth disparity in the country. 

At the beginning of the semester students self-reflected on their strengths in learning styles to find out whether they are more of a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner. The case study of Chile is no simple topic, so I made sure to provide mediums of learning that could reach all students and their various learning styles. We began by reading the text for homework, then watched the documentary version of The Shock Doctrine to help clarify the players involved and their roles in the event. To fully solidify our comprehension of the effects of free-market capitalism in Chile, and to remind ourselves that learning can be fun, we ended with an improv game where we acted out the story ourselves. Check out some snapshots from the day! And if you'd like to watch The Shock Doctrine, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=550p455dfM4&list=PL1DE69769369B7089

by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - October 2, 2015

Last week was Woolman’s Food Intensive, one of two week-long field trips where students engage in hands-on learning from people working in the field (in this case quite literally) on issues we study in classes. From a one-woman farm, to urban school gardens, a feed lot, a mostly female run organic distribution center, or day labor center, we interacted with a wide variety of components of our food systems. Rarely do we take time to think about where our food comes from and what it took to get it into our bodies. The Food Intensive sheds light not only on much of this process, but also how food systems, can be seen from different sides. Here are a few student reflections of multiple perspectives explored on the Food Intensive:

“Two different perspectives I saw were from the guy in charge at the university feedlot and Molly from Fruit of the Loam. The guy in charge at the university feedlot believed that feeding the cows corn was perfectly safe and nutritious; that feeding corn mixed with other nutrients was a less expensive and efficient alternative to grazing. On the contrary, Molly openly spoke on how cows were being fed corn, which they aren’t even able to digest and cannot get proper nutrients from, and how they weren’t being able to move about and graze, fattened to the point in which they become quite weak and confined to a small space until the time for slaughter arises. Additionally, the view on road kill by the naturalist we met in the park was quite interesting; he believed that eating road kill was more respectful to the animal whose life was accidentally taken. Rather than let it’s carcass rot and the animal’s life be a waste, he could use that animal to sustain himself in many ways. That was definitely something that I did not even think about, much less consider, so it was a shock to my perspective on food systems.”       -Victory Amos-Nwankwo

“A time on the food intensive trip where I saw two sides of a story related to food systems was the Oakland Leaf school farming program and Riverhill farm. At the elementary school I observed how they taught the kids how to garden and how important it is. They focused on making sure the kids had the skills to do this, like knowing how to compost properly. They even taught them how to make herbal medicine, which I love! However, I feel like they were mainly focused on how wonderful and useful farming is and they were not as focused on how it can be very difficult. When we went to Riverhill farm I learned the other side to the story of small farms. I learned how it can be very challenging. There are many things that affect the success of farms. The weather is unpredictable but farming is greatly affected by this. At Riverhill farm we learned that they work from four in the morning to six in the evening every single day. It is hard to make a living by working on a small farm. This side of the story made me feel more appreciative about the food I get from these places and it made me want to buy local in order to support all these hard workers. It was interesting to visit both these places because even though they were so alike in many ways I also learned about very different things.”        -Sophia Mueller


Check out a few snapshots from the trip!

by Hilary Ellis-Lavigne, NVC Teacher & Restorative Practices Coordinator - September 24, 2015
Each semester, we invite students to intentionally create the community that they want to live in, and, most importantly, to create a system to respond to any conflict or feelings of disconnection that might arise within the community. To start the Fall semester, students were asked to reflect on and draw pictures of communities and systems that they have already experienced prior to coming to Woolman and to describe what worked and what didn’t. The result was an expression of dissatisfaction and images of triangles depicting hierarchy or scales tipped only one way. Then students were asked to envision what they wanted instead and what that might look like; we saw circles and most notably spirals, to represent open communication and understanding spiraling back into the community, thus “The Spiral System” was born. Last week at Community Meeting “The Spiral System” was presented by Jhanna and was accepted and endorsed by the community.
The work that we are doing now in the Nonviolent Communication class directly relates to and supports the creation and implementation of “The Spiral System”. It is a weekly opportunity to remind ourselves of what really matters to us. Together we learn important and necessary skills which provide opportunities for us to show up in ways that will allow the shared vision of our “perfect community” to emerge. We have been looking at why, even though we have amazing values at the core of our beings, we often make choices that are not in line with those values.
  • We have been asking: What happens if we call ourselves or each other wrong and bad when we do this?
  • We have been exploring what it means to listen to our feelings, name them and use them as guides to connect to what we are deeply caring about.
  • We have been practicing how to hear the feelings and needs of another person no matter what they are saying or how they are saying it, and in doing so to recognize and connect to the beautiful universal human needs behind every “should or shouldn't" thought that we might be having.
This is radical work, the ownership that the students are taking of their own experiences here, is palpable. I am excited and curious to see how this semester will unfold as we individually and collectively continue to live into our Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality/Equity and Sustainability, at the same time living more and more deeply into the beliefs that are the underpinnings of Quaker faith and practice: that there is that of Truth in us all, that we all have direct access to this Truth, that it continually reveals itself to us and that in coming together in community we may come to understand a greater, deeper Truth.