Years tend to demonstrate themes. Many of the mantras of 2020 and 2021 revolved around perseverance, tenacity, and responding to unprecedented challenges. If one theme were assigned to the Aurora Expeditionary Learning Academy (AXL) CAP class of 2020-2021, it would be complexity. Not only were these students faced with changing schedules and online classes, but they were engaging with other complex societal issues.
As the CAP class narrowed their focus for their Action Project, students explored the intersections of public health, public policy, the environment, and the interpersonal impacts of social issues. They spent several weeks discussing how fossil fuels impact Denver’s air quality, how wildfires are intensified by global warming, and the ways personal choices can impact many layers of society. This group ultimately landed on the topic of cigarette and e-cigarette environmental impacts. However, they also continuously connected this issue to the health of their communities as well as the interpersonal considerations of those who consume tobacco on a regular basis. Rather than underwrite the issue as, “People shouldn’t smoke,” they acknowledged that some epople will still make the choice to consume these products and considered how they could encourage these individuals to consider their impacts.
This primarily manifested in a park clean-up and informational posters hung throughout the school and their communities. While preparing both elements of this project, the class held many conversations about what happens to e-cigarette batteries when disposed of improperly and the toxicity of cigarette butts. Each student found their own way to engage with this issue and naturally connected the problem to what they see in their community. The personal connection presented itself in each layer of this project.
In the midst of Action Project planning and all the other end-of-year chaos, this class also prioritized skill-building and fun. Students gained comprehension of how wildfires move through forests, how to hang a bear bag, and how to poop outside without leaving a trace. AXL students also had the opportunity to embark on a Field Day at Cherry Creek State Park where they practiced fire-building skills, played team-building games, and learned the sweetness of sitting quietly by a lake. One of the largest wins of this year was observing students sink into their camp chairs while looking out at the lake in silence, taking in the sounds of water and the breeze. One student even remarked, “I was really glad I didn’t have my phone.” Another: “I could’ve sat here for a long time.” These moments can catapult students into a new world of mindfulness and connection with nature, a sweet moment to end the year on.
As students left for summer, they reflected on what they are grateful for and what they have learned. Students feel more equipped to be outdoors and received practice in addressing real issues around them. They left the classroom on the last day pumped full of candy and excited for the next year. But, first, summer will give them a much-needed break after they have shown up and stayed engaged during a very complex year. AXL students are prepared for whatever comes next.
Written by CAP Instructor Katie Morton
See more photos from the course here!