Teacher Blog

by Carl Sigmond, Documentary Projects Teacher and Operations Manager - June 8, 2016

In an age where almost every smartphone can be a video camera and citizen journalism is becoming more relevant to the public discourse, it is even more necessary to teach the theory and technique of effective documentary making so that our students can bring their stories into the greater world in an effective and engaging way. 

The documentary project has been a central and consistent part of the Woolman Semester curriculum for close to a decade. Each semester, students form groups around topics that spark their curiosity and passion, and over the course of their time here, they team produce a short video documentary on their topic of choice. Students work in groups of 2-5 and collaborate on every aspect of the film-making process, from envisioning a narrative arc to shooting and editing footage into a cohesive story. 

In class, we discuss how to share and divide up tasks to ensure that every group member’s voice is heard and valued and work through group conflicts as they arise. We also confront key questions of the documentary genre, including: How does one person represent another? How do filmmakers represent themselves? How are power relations expressed and challenged through these representations? 

This semester, Documentary Class was the Global Thinking Project Class, and so the Global Thinking class theme of multiple perspectives ran throughout the Doc Class as students tried to answer these questions for themselves and in the documentaries they created. Students struggled with group dynamics, how to reconcile seemingly conflicting visions for where the documentary should go, but in the end, they successfully produced films on love and relationships, community life here at Woolman, the symbiotic relationship between animals and farming, and the stigmas surrounding mental illness. We had a public screening on May 12.

When I was a student in the Spring 2009 Woolman Semester, I was part of a team that created a documentary on the local food movement here in Nevada County. After Woolman, I studied documentary filmmaking and documentary as a tool for social change at Haverford College. Now, back at Woolman, I love teaching a tool that I’m so passionate about. It is my hope that I am offering our students the skills so that they will leave Woolman empowered with the knowledge to use this tool in their own social change work. 

by Andrew Sellery, Ceramics Teacher - June 8, 2016

Another amazing Semester here at Woolman, and the firings (wood & Raku) were, as always, the highlight of Ceramics events. I really love to use the process of Raku firing early in the semester to offer students a hands on experience showing the diversity of the ceramic experience, as well as exposing just how hot and immediate an art process can be. Yes, pulling out a Raku project at red heat, glass surface semi liquid, is an exciting, intimidating & magical experience!

Closing the Semester with a wood fire exposes the student body to the reality of just how much hard work, focus and commitment is needed to bring a simple bowl to completion. Cords of wood split to sticks, days of seemingly endless feeding of wood to fuel the pottery chambers until white heat is reached, relying on all to be guardians of each others' art & craft. Finally pulling down the door bricks to expose many weeks of passionate and heart felt work. Much like opening a treasure chest, not knowing the contents. I'm forever grateful to Woolman Semester School for offering me the opportunity to share this passion!

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 Annika Alexander-Ozinskas, Environmental Science Teacher - May 20, 2016

The second half of Environmental Science kicked off with the Food Intensive in April: a week-long field trip to the Bay Area to study food systems and food justice. We met with Briar Patch Food Co-op, Phat Beets Produce, Acta Non Verba, Food First, Veritable Vegetable, PLEJ for Liberation, Three Stone Hearth, UC Davis Feedlot, UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, UC Davis Student Farm, the National Germplasm Repository, and visited the Jelly Belly factory. Our conversations ranged from the ethics and sustainability of genetically modified foods to the political and social challenge of food deserts in urban areas. Students were shocked by the industrialization and corporatization of food, and inspired by those who are working for localization and equity in food production and distribution.

After our trip, we spent a week studying astronomy. Students chose topics to research and share with the rest of the class, including pulsars, astronomical navigation, and the ancient mythology underlying the common names of constellations. We spent hours outside observing the stars, the full moon, and even got a glimpse of Jupiter and three of Jupiter’s moons!

Our next couple weeks were focused on local ecology. We spent a day doing “citizen science” with SYRCL, the South Yuba River Citizen’s League, at a restoration site along the Yuba near Hammon Bar. In small teams we counted the number of surviving willows that were planted to provide more habitat for local fauna, including salmon fry, to rehabilitate an area that remains covered in mining debris from the Gold Rush. We also took a native plant walk on the nearby Independence Trail, observing a beautiful wildflower bloom and discussing the many uses of local plants. Several students submitted original artwork to SYRCL’s Youth for the Yuba contest in May, and won prizes for their poetry, paintings and photography. Their work was featured on local radio station, KVMR, as well as in the window display at Art Works Gallery in Grass Valley. Way to go Woolman nature artists!


Our last section of class was spent wrapping up and presenting sustainability projects. Student projects included: cleaning and organizing our on-campus “free store” (where clothes and objects are reused and upcycled); planning an eco-friendly mural; planting an herb garden; planning a local community garden; leading a guided meditation; creating “tree cards” to teach trail users about the trees on campus; rehabilitating our community bikes; researching shark finning; wildcrafting teas, tinctures, paper, ice cream, and more from native medicinal plants; clearing the Woolman woods of trash; extending the Woolman outreach network; learning about genetically modified trees; planning the construction of a bicycle-powered blender; and hosting a banquet and educational seminar on the importance of ancestry.

As an educator, there is no experience more powerful for me than witnessing the passion and curiosity of my students. This semester was a feast for my soul - hearing these students speak, reading what they wrote in their nature journals and reflections, and seeing the looks of amazement on their faces as we observed the natural world… all of these things have filled me with joy and hope. It was an honor to work with these young people. I believe in their wisdom and their vision for stewarding the planet, and am excited for all that their futures hold.

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 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 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 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 - 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 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 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 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.


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.


We watched the following:


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:


Theses are some examples of readings from homework and class:

Resources for Educators:

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

by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - April 16, 2015

It’s sometimes hard to notice harmful systems in our daily lives, even though they make up the basic fibers of our society. Even when we do notice them these systems can be hard to name, hard to articulate. Or perhaps when we try to talk about them, it feels like no one’s listening. At Woolman we challenge this status quo: we not only analyze systems of oppression, we vocalize how our society treats people of different identities in different ways. We examine the prison industrial complex, food justice, and the continuous prevalence of racism across the country and world. We explore the intersectionality of systems of oppression and realize that in fact our democracy is really an oligarchy and thus there is a direct link between the corporatization of our economy, marginalization of disenfranchised people who are not represented by our governmental system, and the increasingly growing wealth disparity in the United States.

At Woolman we don’t hide from the fact that the world is in crisis and that we are far from true peace, sustainable peace. Instead we embrace the fact that we are at a point of immense opportunity which the radical author and activist Joanna Macy, whose work we read in Peace Studies class, calls The Great Turning. “It is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization” (http://www.joannamacy.net/thegreatturning.html). We bring a critical eye to the structures and systems that govern our society not just to identify the problems but more importantly to craft alternative solutions. We think about how those who are disenfranchised by the status quo, particularly youth like those who are already leading the movement for a better future, can be agents of change, how we can build economic systems that allow people to jump out of the poverty cycle, food systems that provide everyone access to healthy and affordable nourishment, police and criminal justice systems that aren’t sending the message that young black men don’t deserve to be alive. Our inspiration comes from highly acclaimed authors like Naomi Klein, who enlightens us on how a commitment to green jobs could simultaneously solve our climate crisis and our economic crisis, and also from less known forward thinkers like Jonah Mossberg, whose film Out Here explains the intersection of food justice and queer liberation (http://outheremovie.com/).

We realize that because systems of oppression are so interconnected, systems of liberation are equally linked. We also acknowledge that in order to achieve a truly equitable society we must listen and learn from those who are most affected by oppression. Australian Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson stated that, “If you are coming to help us, you are wasting your time. If you are coming because you know your liberation is bound up with ours, then let us work together.” Looking deep inside our own identities and experiences, Woolman students learn how to use their privileges and positions in society to build the world that we all need: a world free of oppression and marginalization where all people are empowered and supported to live healthy and free lives.                    

Students brainstorming what empowering education looks like.


Taking notes off the whiteboard isn't common in radical education. Instead students' ideas bring notes to the board.

by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - March 7, 2015

For the past two weeks students have been researching different aspects of our campus and looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption. Yesterday students presented their energy audits to the class, and in the coming weeks we will be implementing the changes that they've recommended. The first group looked at our dish sanitizer and alternatives to it.

Based off their research they will be proposing to the community that we save energy by washing dishes by hand for a week. We will see how that method serves or does not serve the community.

The next group — Alex, Pedro, and Wade presented on our wood stoves and their efficiency. 

What was most interesting for them and the class was how inefficient space heaters are and the benefits of EPA certified wood stoves. We have written grants in the past, through the Strawberry Creek Meeting Dime-A-Gallon Grant, to replace old wood stoves with EPA certified ones, and this research supports doing so again.

We then heard about Woolman's vehicle use, and a proposal to buy a two-seater leaf car for short town trips, which we will be looking into. Finally, Lily and Luz presented on cabin lights. They looked into switching them to motion sensing lights and/or timer lights. Their data showed that switching the porch lights of all 8 cabins to motion sensing would cost about $100, but pay for itself in a year. They will be proposing this change to the community next Wednesday.

I am excited for the impact these students will have on the campus and for the understanding that they gained while doing these projects. Their knowledge will transfer to where ever they go when the leave Woolman, and will hopefully have a positive impact on those communities as well.

by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - March 4, 2015

Happy March! It is hard to believe that the semester started almost six weeks ago. We have some updates for you from different aspects of Woolman life, written by various teachers.

Students and interns had a gorgeous 3 days on Staycation last weekend! They headed down the coast to the Big Sur region, camping at Plaskett Creek campground which bore a lovely resemblance to Frodo and Bilbo’s shire. A 6 mile hike up the switchbacks of the Cruickshank Trail was well worth the trek when met with epic oceanic views at the summit and a West Coast sunset at the shore in the evening. Saturday morning started early to get down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While the tentacle exhibit was incredible, the simple pleasures of double rainbows, tacos, and accoustic melodies of fellow students were a wonderful completion to a weekend away. 

In Peace Studies students just finished a unit on oppression, power, privilege, and allyship. This week they started learning about US empire, militarism and native sovereignty. Here is a link to one of their readings by feminist activist Andrea Smith. In Peace Projects class the students came to a consensus that for their collective action organizing project they want to focus on three issues: Pro-Choice, Immigration Rights and Islamophobia. In groups they have been researching each issue and will present this week on the root causes and effects of injustices and articulate their own visions for social change on their issue. We will then as a class look at the intersectionality of each issue and dream up an action to implement that will address all three.
Woolman’s Technology Committee is organizing Tech Free Day challenges for the campus. These are opportunities for us to explore our relationship to and dependency on the various forms of technology in our lives. All community members will be encouraged to leave their cell phones behind and be intentional about using as little electricity as possible. Our first challenge will take place next Wednesday, March 11 on the five-year anniversary of the tsunami and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. We will be joining forces with efforts around the world to take a stand for clean, safe, and sustainable power by unplugging from the grid.
The attached pictures show Lily playing with the bluegrass Fruit Jar Pickers in Rough and Ready, CA, gnocchi and quiche meals, students working on EnviSci energy audits, and pruning in the orchard.
by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - March 2, 2015

In one of our first units in Global Thinking, we examined how each of us views the world. What parts of our identity, backgrounds, experiences, and other aspects of our selves influence our perspectives? Where do our biases and opinions come from? Multiple perspectives is a key theme that we will explore throughout the semester, and students began by digging deep within themselves and shared what makes up their unique worldview.




by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - February 12, 2015

The semester is in full swing! After a week of orientation, and a hectic first week of classes, people are starting to find their rhythm. Each of the teachers have written about their classes for this update.


The students hit the ground running in terms of being introduced to and grasping the basic concepts of NVC.  On their second day here in orientation week we identified what values/life qualities would be present in their ideal community and what we were willing to do to live into or out of those values. In our first NVC class we looked at what gets in the way of us living like this all the time. This led us to exploring right/wrong, good/bad thinking and how that naturally flows into a system of punishments and rewards and named that way of living as a "power over" culture. The whole process and consciousness of NVC was presented as a choice to explore a "power with" culture instead. Next class we will continue to explore what it means to embody a value that we deeply care about so we may better meet hard and challenging moments from a place of fullness, without judgements or blame.


In Environmental Science, we began the semester hiking around Woolman’s campus, learning about the land and what we will be covering. We then shared our experiences with science and our dreams for this class. We are now studying global warming and the biases commonly associated with both sides of the issue. From here we will delve into energy, and groups of students will be doing an energy audit of different aspects of Woolman’s campus.


In Peace Studies we began by sharing our hopes and fears and envisioning the world in which we want to live. We also made collective agreements with the goal of creating a safer space for learners who support, challenge, and affirm each other. In this introductory unit we are building a theoretical foundation drawing on concepts of peace, violence, power and interconnection. We are exploring the power of voicing our truths and transforming our silences in to action for peace and justice. This week students wrote and shared powerful “Where I’m From” poems.


In Global Thinking, we began by exploring what it means to be a global citizen, working off the idea that we are all interconnected to each other and thus in order to be agents of change we must start by changing our own lifestyles. We have examined our individual worldviews and what parts of our identities and experiences help shape our perspectives. This week we began our unit on media literacy with a TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi


In Farm to Table, we started with a class on fruit tree pruning, which we will be practicing all spring as we maintain our orchard. During shared work, several students learned to create trays of seedlings, which will be transplanted to the fields in April. This week we are talking about why growing, preparing, and consuming our own foods is a form of activism.


Sorry, we don’t have many pictures from class… yet! But here are some from the Contra dance we took students to this past weekend, shared work, and community meeting. Oh, and a Valentine’s Day gift Eli and Andrew gave to Wade!