Woolman Blog

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. 
by Emily Wheeler, Admissions and Outreach Director - September 21, 2015

Brian Gil-Rios is currently a senior at Big Picture Learning’s MetWest High School in Oakland, California. He is spending the fall semester at the Woolman Semester School, where students from high schools across the United States study social justice and environmental sustainability together while living on a farm in a residential community in Nevada City, California. We sat down with Brian to learn more about what it’s like to transition from the hustle of a metropolitan learning environment to one which, as Brian admits, benefits from a certain level of calmness.

1.   If you had one word to describe Woolman, what would it be?

Relaxing. I come from a city, Oakland, where there is constant noise from cars, construction and people. In Oakland there is never time where it's totally quiet, no silence. You can’t just go sit under a tree or walk through the forest. At Woolman, like in silent meeting, I can really focus on myself and that helps me not feel stressed. I see that I don’t have to worry too much. Plus, there are hammocks around!

2.   What has been most surprising for you at Woolman?

The people. Before I came, I was thinking okay – 15 students, interns, staff – I never thought I’d connect. I’m from Oakland, they won’t understand. But we’ve actually had similar experiences and I’m learning different things from everyone. We’re interacting from different backgrounds. When I visited Woolman before this semester, I saw the community interact, everyone seemed really close. Now I see that process working, people are getting closer.

3.   Do you have a favorite memory so far?

Finding the Crystal Tree [a famous but secretive spot on campus]. I explore the woods here two or three times a week, sometimes just for 15 minutes and sometimes longer. Literally, yesterday, I found it. I wish I could have just stumbled upon it myself, but there were some other people there and I could hear them so that’s how I found it. There are other places I might find myself, like the old structures that students have built. But you know, it’s like that phrase, “it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

4.   How would you describe the Woolman community?

As a whole it seems like Woolman functions because each individual is a part of what makes it whole. If you miss something, like Shared Work, we might actually have trouble filling that hole. And if someone is having a hard time, we communicate with each other – we’re united. And it is united, we have meetings to talk about our ideas or to work things out. Everyone has a voice and the community will try to meet their needs as well as the community needs.

5.   How do you see yourself in that community?

If something arises that I’m passionate about, I’ll speak about it. For the most part, I agree with the things that are happening, so I don’t always speak. My nature is to be quiet. I know it might sound like I’m contradicting what I just said about community, but I think my voice feels represented here and if it doesn’t, then I share.

6.   Can you talk a little bit about the classes at Woolman?

I came to Woolman already knowing about types of oppression. But here I’m able to go deeper, share what I know and help facilitate. In Peace Studies, I facilitated an activity from my organization Bay Peace, and students asked where I had learned that; which was cool! Peace Studies is helping me think about justice and injustices. The homework is hard, some of it is grad school level! That on top of SAT’s, math, work from MetWest – juggling all of it has been a challenge. But I’m not stressed about it because I’m here.

7.   Have you learned any concepts that give you a new perspective?

My Global Thinking class has really opened my eyes to recent events. In each class, one person is asked to give an explanation of a current event with three sources. It’s the same issue, but from different sides. You really see how media portrays different things to make it look good or bad depending on what they want to show. You really see the bigger picture. The issues feel far away, but it’s good to have the knowledge of what’s happening all over the world.

In the first two weeks [of Global Thinking], our homework was to trace our clothes – how many miles they had come – and it was crazy to see how every part of our clothes comes from a different place. The zipper might be from Texas, the cloth from India or Bangladesh, then it might be assembled in China and finally shipped to the store where you buy it. You really see how the world is connected through one piece of clothing.

We’re also really connected through technology. You can literally talk with someone anywhere in the world through a screen. When I think about it, it’s cool but crazy.

8.   Why do you think doing a semester program is a valuable experience?

The reason I came out here to Woolman is that I wanted to be away. I’m not running away from Oakland or my problems, but I want to be independent. I want to be myself. Here everyone looks out for each other. It’s a different lifestyle. I never thought I’d be eating different kinds of food every night. We’ve only been here a month and it’s amazing to see that I’ve actually adapted to being here! I think it’s important to have an open mind and to live differently in terms of your daily routine. I came here thinking, “Okay, it’s going to be different”, and that mentality, being open, that was really important. I might have been shy at first, but I was just getting used to everything. I wouldn't say I changed myself to be at Woolman. I just got used to the change.

We invite you to learn more about what makes the Woolman experience special for students like Brian. For more information, please visit semester.woolman.org.

by Brianna Beyrooty, Staff - September 1, 2015

Welcome to the Woolman Educational Garden--a place of laughter and growth, a place where the word drought is never spoken in front of the plants (that would be rude), and a place where harvesting your first vegetable reminds you that all the hard work was undeniably worth it.

In the beginning--back in February--the garden felt cold, the orchard wet, and I did not understand the importance of straight and fluffy beds. I dreaded long afternoons...thinking maybe gardening wasn’t for me.  Every piece of information seemed part of some new language I hadn’t even heard the name of.  Words went in one ear and out the other in a series of explanations told by the wonderful, eloquent garden manager Maggie McProud.  After many mornings of seeding I thought I knew it all, but then I realized through all the cover crops we still had vegetables in the garden. That day I harvested my first vegetable--leeks. Later on that day I googled what leeks were.  Soon, what I was doing made sense, outcomes became clearer, and I understood what my purpose was in the garden: I was to facilitate the growth and care of these plants, and in turn they facilitated the growth and care of those who walked through the garden walls. 

As the garden is in full swing--with harvests going into the Woolman Semester Kitchen, into a restaurant in town, and (for a lucky few) into their homes--there is a lull engrossing the space between the garden gates. The space that needed me so badly a few months ago is now blooming all on its own. The bees, ignoring me as I walk by, pull nectar from their flowers; the carrots are freely dwelling beneath my feet until it’s time to be pulled; and the hummingbird buzzes rapidly past my ear, whispering that everything will be ok. 

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - June 5, 2015

Looking back on my first year as a teacher, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to grow, learn, and create with this community.  Coming to Woolman marked a shift in my career from grassroots organizing to formal education. I now see how intertwined these two paths are. Organizing and action for collective liberation are central to peace education, and I have designed my curriculum to reflect this.

With a background in youth organizing, I fiercely believe in the power of youth to create change. Youth voices matter, and they have the power to transform and heal our communities as they have done for generations. A primary goal of my course is for students to see themselves as agents of change. I invite students’ interests, passions, and creativity into the classroom and strive to create a container with space for possibility and transformation.

One way that I do this is to model my projects class curriculum on organizer training and emergent teaching, in which I use flexibility and creativity to center students’ passions. This means that each semester, I have to trust in the students’ truths as they are revealed, and I have to be open to supporting their vision, wherever it may take us.  It makes for an exciting semester and gives students practice and empowerment in consensus-based decision-making, group facilitation, and logistical action planning and outreach.

For the past two semesters, this process has yielded extraordinary results. The Fall ‘14 semester students collectively organized Safe Spaces for Youth Voices, an Open Mic dedicated to shedding light on the topic of sexualized aggression. It was radical in that it broke the silence and allowed space for speaking out against sexual violence in our lives. Throughout the semester, students based their organizing on an ethic of love and modeled self and community care.

This Spring, students hosted Let’s Taco ‘Bout Social Justice, a taco fest to educate community members on the issues of Pro-choice, Undocumented Student Rights, and Islamophobia.  Their program was centered around the voices of communities directly affected with the understanding that these communities know best how to bring about and sustain justice when it comes to their own lives.  The event was powerful, uplifting and fun, demonstrating the power of creative and joyful youth energy in taking action to dismantle violent systems of oppression.

These actions wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the trust and support of the Woolman community.  I look forward to the 2015-16 academic year and to continuing to learn and be inspired by my students and co-workers.  For more information on how I incorporate education for transformation and liberation into the classroom, check out my Rad Resources blog on our Radical Learning for Change Trip and #BlackLivesMatter Unit.  This summer, I will be writing about and refining my curriculum for my graduate thesis in Peace Education and hope to make that available as a resource for educators early this Fall.  

I want students to walk away from my class with a greater understanding of themselves and their world and a belief in their own power to change the world around them. In this spirit, I leave you with a quote from Andrea Gibson’s spoken word poem, Say Yes, which I played for students at graduation to remind them to shine.

“when two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound the note
if this is your definition of hope
this is for you
the ones who know how powerful we are
who know we can sound the music in the people around us
simply by playing our own strings”

-Andrea Gibson 

(To listen to Say Yes in it's entirety, click here.) 

by Maggie McProud, Garden Manager and Farm-to-Table Teacher - June 4, 2015

"Our garden quietly affords our community with a space for reflection, inspiration and guidance through these metamorphoses, simultaneously providing nourishment to support our path forward."   – Maggie McProud

We are on the cusp of summer and already we have much to be grateful for in The Woolman Educational Garden. For those of us who live and learn here, Woolman inspires transformation and adaptation. Our garden quietly affords our community with a space for reflection, inspiration and guidance through these metamorphoses, simultaneously providing nourishment to support our path forward. The garden has recently reminded me that the path to discovery and adaptation demands a willingness to digest and decompose ideas we have come to rely on in order to breathe new life into the systems and cycles that support us.

In our Farm to Table class this semester, we discussed one of my favorite concepts – Permaculture Design. Roughly, the concept is this: we cannot truly solve the challenges we face using the same form of consciousness that created said challenges. Einstein succinctly captures the potency of this concept in one of his famous quotes, yet it has taken many years of farming to comprehend the massive implications of this idea and to employ this concept as a strategy to make positive change.  It is this very form of ‘consciousness evolution’ that we aspire to engage with in our farming practices but can also be applied to personal development and to community living. In Quakerism and Quaker education, this process is beautifully captured as Continuing Revelation.

Our mild winter and rain shortage has dramatically increased pressure from ‘pests’ this spring. This change begs new approaches and adaptations to our farming practices. When faced with problems in the garden, we encourage our students to ask: How have we played a part in this dynamic instead of assuming this phenomenon is happening to us? The weather is obviously out of our control, but it doesn’t take us long to realize we have been catalyzing natural processes for our benefit and are partly responsible for all the outcomes whether or not they were intended.

One of our biggest obstacles in the Woolman Garden is the presence of symphylans (read more here). This soil dwelling arthropod lives off organic matter and root hairs, virtually stunting the majority of plants growing in their presence. In fact, their populations thrive with most ecologically literate farming practices! Incorporating compost, minimizing tillage and mulching are just a few of the techniques we use that support and spread this organism. We have found solutions that reduce crop damage but nothing to eradicate the problem completely. With the increase in symphylans this Spring, we are being forced to think outside the box, especially when it comes to composting our green waste – symphylans have always found their way into our finished compost piles no matter what we do. In response, we have actually decided to think inside the box and compost using Vermiculture! (Here are a few pictures of Tyler's beautiful craftsmanship on the new worm boxes!)

"By facing our original challenge creatively, we have been reminded that adapting from old systems to new methods of problem solving truly supports resiliency both in our garden and in our community."

This new solution provides us with the same function and meets our needs while simultaneously adding countless benefits to our program.  Our new worm bins provide more biological diversity, richness to our soil, educational opportunities and craftsmanship to our garden.  By stacking functions, we have designed our worm boxes into our preexisting vegetable processing station and upgraded these systems with additional improvements.  By facing our original challenge creatively, we have been reminded that adapting from old systems to new methods of problem solving truly supports resiliency both in our garden and in our community.

Thank you to everyone who helped to create this new system, ‘pests’ and all!

by Gray Horwitz, Head of School - June 3, 2015

I work in the shared center of this venn diagram — Woolman is the only school that is both Quaker and a semester program. I’ve worked at other Quaker schools and other semester schools, and being here, I feel so much gratitude, as I see the best of both in Woolman.

The most amazing aspects of semester schools are, in my opinion, the diverse, ever-changing community, intensive and immersive experiences, and focused programming. And in Quaker education, the things that I find truly unique are Quaker testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equity, Stewardship) and the core tenets of Quaker pedagogy — valuing each person’s individual truth, working together to discern knowledge, and always reexamining what we think we know.

By having people from different backgrounds enmeshed with Quaker pedagogy, individual truths can be explored and valued by all. And by having a challenging academic experience along with valuing equity, we have a curriculum that adapts to the varied education of students and where they are coming from. Creating community with new people every semester coupled with the unparalleled community support I know from Quaker communities facilitates a journey that is full of love and joy. The focused programming of a semester school allows us to delve deeper into subjects in line with our Quaker beliefs and teach classes such as Peace Studies, Farm to Table, and Nonviolent Communication. I could go on for awhile, but one final example is having an immersive experience with week-long field trips and a rural boarding school environment combined with continuing discernment lets Woolman students explore depths of subjects and themselves.

It is beautiful to see these two models of education overlap and have so much synergy.

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

Many members of our community come to Woolman seeking a powerful experience. Others come without expecting it and are perhaps even more deeply transformed than those who do. One of the students of the Spring 2015 semester illuminated his journey at Woolman through a poignant metaphor during his graduation speech. He described his semester as a marathon. At Woolman, we focus heavily on connecting theoretical learning to real world examples and to our own lived experiences. Earlier this spring, one of the interns, with whom this student had particularly connected, ran a 50-mile marathon, which made this metaphor even more relevant.

A marathon, he explained, begins in a manner similar to that of the beginning of a Woolman Semester: you might be a bit anxiously excited about being there, you're not quite sure how the rest of the journey is going to go, and you see that many others share a common goal of making it to the finish line. The 26 miles of the marathon will definitely have lots of steep uphills and long downhills, as will the 16 weeks of powerful learning and living in community. At times you might feel like giving up or wonder how you could possibly make it through, but just when you feel like you've hit the lowest point, another runner might pass by and say, “Way to go!”, or a classmate might reach out and give you a piece of advice that is the little bit of needed motivation to keep going. Then, all of a sudden, you're at the finish line. You've reached the end and look back and think, how did that possibly happen so quickly? And while the simple task of completing the marathon of a semester is an achievement in and of itself, what stuck out most for this student was that through loving and pushing each other, feeling struggle and frustration at the low points and singing joyfully at the high points, they were still all together, right to the end.

While the intern who ran the marathon may not have felt the 50 miles exactly in this way, and while the hills and valleys of the Woolman Semester certainly manifest differently for each student each semester, what is most meaningful for me as this student's advisor was how much reflection comes from this 16-week journey. Both self reflection and reflection on the systems and structures that govern our society, which I teach in depth in my Global Thinking class, are where I see real growth happening at Woolman. And yet I realized during this graduation ceremony that it's called commencement for a reason: commencement means a beginning, and I often wonder if the deepest reflection and growth of our students is only just beginning when they leave our campus.

by Andrew Sellery, Ceramics instructor - May 25, 2015

Woolman is blessed with one of the most amazing wood fired kilns in America. In Japan, it is called a Noborigama kiln or "climbing kiln". It is a six-chambered kiln, each chamber using the residual heat of the chamber below it. Should all six chambers be loaded, it would use up to five cords of wood split to a diameter of one inch and hold as many as 3000 pieces of pottery!

Firing the Noborigama kiln demands the efforts of the whole Woolman community, as well as the efforts of as many as forty local potters to see this process to completion. It takes months of planning and long days of prepping wood, glazing pieces, loading of kiln chambers, and up to 24 hours of continual stoking wood. The process is exhausting, but the communal gathering to work together as a team is a life experience never to be forgotten.

What a joy to watch the transformation of student learning from the process of clay making. Yes, the wheel is exciting -- and when viewed from a place of competence, awe inspiring! This process is always more daunting once the student takes on the reality that the challenge to learn a craft imposes. To hold a steady hand that first asks the student to move beyond their fear of failure to the slow process of skill improvement, I love to watch their continual shift from apprehension to a skills learned excitement.

I love to look into each student’s eyes and say, "If you show up, you will succeed". From day one, I make it completely clear that it is about the effort not the outcome. This is my job, this is my passion, this is why I was placed on this earth.

by Brianna Beyrooty, Staff, Farm Apprentice - May 13, 2015

Interns play an integral part in the garden. They spend 10+ hours in the garden a week doing everything from seed starting to pruning an entire orchard.  Intern garden time is a great way to bond over hard work and see something transform with their efforts every week.

Monday mornings start with a garden check-in, starting with silence interns share thoughts to start the week with. This is a way unique and effective way to ease into the week with a clear mind and heart.  With the intern’s hard work and dedication the garden gets the attention and love it deserves.

Here are some of the intern’s thoughts on working in the garden:

Joe- I like pruning and being in the trees in the orchard. I like not killing, but invigorating the tree to grow. I think I’m good with the ladder and enjoy the aggressive ladder work. 

Em-What I love most about working in the garden is the opportunity to be outside. Nothing makes me more jolly than the California sun! I’m also quite fond of whispering encouraging words to our growing plant babies and chasing away hungry quails.

 

Gio- Our farm manager Maggie McProud is my favorite thing about the garden! Granted, she isn't a plant, but she does support the interns as we grow as farmers and people. She is closely seconded by harvesting cherry tomatoes, pruning apple trees, and planting garlic.  It was harvest season when we first arrived at Woolman, so understandably we were easily enchanted by the incredible amount of produce that was picked and consumed every day. At one point, at the end of the peak season, we harvested over five hundred pounds of produce in one day (four hundred of which were tomatoes). 

Kat with weeds

Kat- Having never grown food before, working with the garden this year has given me a deep and visceral appreciation for cycles of life and the radical act that is taking that process into your own hands and belly. I love knowing that the sweat off my own back is a gesture of resistance against industrial agricultural practices that harm our planet, bodies and communities. I also love knowing that the greens and tomatoes on my plate haven’t been shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away and that their growth contributed to and not detracted from the health of the soil. I’m grateful to be understanding these cyclical processes of life and death, so essential to our basic existence, not in a textbook but through hands-on experience with a brilliant teacher like Maggie McProud leading the way.

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - May 6, 2015

      

Last week was my favorite week of the semester: our Radical Learning for Change Trip (Rad Trip). I love to visit the Bay where I grew up and am thankful for the opportunity to introduce the students to incredible organizers, artists, educators and change makers. My internal fire was fueled with inspiration, and I grew closer to our students. The Rad Trip built upon the teachings of our Global Thinking and Peace Studies classes.

In Peace Studies, students have been challenged to look deeply at themselves and explore their multiple and fluid identities. This includes exploring how their roots, cultural backgrounds, and lived experiences inform their worldviews and values. Their self-reflection has focused on how power, privilege, and oppression manifest in their everyday lives and life spaces. A goal of the class is to cultivate critical consciousness in which students actively take part in anti-oppression work and see themselves as agents of transformation. 

We learn about systems of oppression with a critical, intersectional lens, and understand the story of the US to be rooted in white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, militarism and capitalism. We study grassroots resistance movements led by directly affected peoples. We seek out voices that speak truth to power and stories omitted from mainstream educational narratives. We celebrate the resilience, courage, and power of ordinary people whose deep love of self and community outweigh their fatigue and fear of violence and injustice.

Throughout the semester students have been studying and discussing racism/white supremacy, the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison-industrial-complex, the New Jim Crow criminal justice system, the Black Panther Party survival programs, and the Civil Rights and #BlackLivesMatter movements. From Oakland to Boston our students from around the country shared stories and photos from participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests in their home communities. Last week in Oakland we watched Fruitvale Station and participated in May Day rallies and marches protesting racist police brutality in solidarity with Baltimore. The following are examples of class activities and resources in the hope that you will continue to talk about how Black Lives Matter and push for systemic change.

Artivism:

One day in class students worked individually and in collaboration to create activist art inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.  They designed screen prints, postcards, t-shirts, memorial posters, graphic art collages, and a performance piece.

Films:

We watched the following:

Music:

Each day in class we start with someone sharing a song that relates to peace and justice. These are some of the songs we discussed for this unit:

Readings:

Theses are some examples of readings from homework and class:

Resources for Educators:

Many of these resources are from the following radical educational guides: