Unveiling Growth, Connection, and Environmental Awareness in a Quarter of Discovery. Written by CAP Instructor Sadie Norton.
After CAP Class, in an anonymous survey, 92% of students agreed they are “more likely to make a positive difference in my community,” 92% “feel more connected to my peers,” and 92% of students “believe my actions can help my community.” 92% of students strongly agreed “my teacher cared about me.” 100% of students indicated they “would recommend CAP Class to an interested friend.”
Late summer, we stood outside on the first day of school in a circle, one teacher and 16 New Vista High School (NVHS) students. Made from climbing rope and paracord, in front of us lay three concentric circles flat on the ground on that warm afternoon. They represented our 3 comfort zones. In the center, there was the “Comfort Zone,” where you feel safe. Calm. Unchallenged. The next circle out, the “Stretch Zone,” represents a space that is healthily outside of your comfort zone. Challenged, but not overwhelmed. Lastly, on the very outside, laid the “Panic Zone.” Unsafe, and not in control.
“Eating waffles. Taking tests. Singing on stage. Playing video games. Being in the woods in the dark. Apologizing for a mistake you made that hurt someone.” Students were given these scenarios one at a time. With each, they were tasked with moving to a circle indicating which level of comfort they felt for the hypothetical scenario. At the end of the activity, we took a pause. We asked, “Look around you. Where are your classmates? Are you all in the same place? Why do you think we are in different circles?” “CAP Class is like this activity. Throughout the class, you will be moved from one comfort zone to another,” I explained.
The next day, we talked about what a healthy community looks like, and about how we can form a positive and pro-social class culture of support, connection, and genuine care. Together, we worked to create a place to safely challenge ourselves and to be pushed outside of our comfort zones while feeling supported. This was Phase 1: Build Community.
“I personally loved that I had a sense of belonging” – NVHS CAP Student
Next, we learned skills like The 10 Essentials, building shelters using only tarps and paracord, helping “Devin” (our semi-fictional, clumsy, loveable, and mistake-prone protagonist) learn how to plan for a trip, and the Survival Rule of 3’s. We learned how to create splints using clothing and trekking poles, and came up with countless ways to make tourniquets out of supplies you can find in your school bag. We laughed and learned new skills, grew closer, shared experiences, we stormed, and we built trust. We had achieved Phase 2: Create Connection.
“This class helps you feel more connected with peers and nature. It also helps you get outside during the school day which doesn’t happen often.” – NVHS CAP Student
Next came learning about the environment. We learned about the Earth’s Vital Signs. Like ours, the earth has “physiological” indicators that tell us about its health. We asked what these look like globally, locally, at NVHS, and in our own backyards. The conclusion we came to: our planet is very sick. So what do we do about it? Do we enter the “Cycle of Cynicism” (become complacent, overwhelmed, give up)? Or the “Cycle of Hope” (adapt, nurture what we have, heal what is ill)? These questions lent themselves to powerful and productive discussions.
We also learned about wildfires, something that has impacted so many of us. Our field day brought us to investigate the burn scars at Heil Valley Ranch. We hiked and toured the Lefthand Fire Protection District. These experiences contributed to Phase 3: A Call to Action.
“It was a good experience to have, I don’t go camping a lot and this class helped with my fears in a fun way.” – NVHS CAP Student
Finally, it was time for our overnight trip. We spent two days and one night at Cheley Outpost Camp. It was unforgettable! Students stepped into leadership roles, we laughed, played Dutch Mafia, made good food, hiked, threw pine cones, whittled, and learned how to build and control fire. Early on the second morning, we did a “sit spot,” where students sat alone, consuming their surroundings. Some journaled, some napped, and some listened to the creek while quiet, bathed in nature. There were no expectations beyond experience. This supported Phase 4: Nature Connection.
Following these moments of presence, we stepped into the role of giving back. Led by two self-elected student leaders, we joined in on the ongoing fire mitigation efforts at Cheley as we moved log piles from the forest and down a large hill, into piles along a path to be picked up and removed by locals needing firewood. “Log throwing” became the new favorite pastime for many of these hard-working students as they completed Phase 5: Leadership.
“CAP class is the only class I’ve ever been excited about and I feel like I’ve learned a lot of important things that I will actually use and apply to my life.” – NVHS CAP Student
Connected, inspired, and energized, it was time for our Action Project. The question was, on what issue? We brainstormed, and it was brought to a vote. We decided on a focus on waste management and, more specifically, littering. This was an issue that felt close to many students’ hearts and, together, a project came to life. Fully student-directed and informed by all of the phases before, students stepped into leadership roles, rose to the challenge, and went into action. Litter was collected, and a contest was created and executed. It is not easy to create an Action Project on your own, from conception to completion, but this was no issue for this crew of 16 ingenuitive world-changers and world-shakers. With great pride, and as a team, this NVHS CAP Class successfully accomplished Phase 6: Take Action.
The final phase of class was Phase 7: Adjourning. On our last day, just like our first day, we came together again, side-by-side, in a circle. Each person took a turn sharing what they will carry forth with them from CAP Class. For some, they felt they became leaders. For others, they had discovered newfound friendship and the feeling of a deep sense of connection (to each other and to nature). Others found their voice. We celebrated each other and freely shared appreciation and gratitude. With that, CAP-58 came to a close. But only as a “formal” class. For me, CAP-58 will carry on for quite some time. The lessons we learned, the sense of belonging, our newfound self-efficacy, a feeling of genuine care and community, and a desire to throw logs–these will live on.
“[CAP] is a class that brings you much closer to your fellow students and the world around you. You get to experience learning in places other than school and you get to understand how and why we need to protect our world along with actually making a difference!” – NVHS CAP Student