Building Skills, Building Bridges

Alzar School | 03.10.12

Greetings from Alzar School’s English Teacher!

In the last two weeks we have certainly been busy. We completed our first unit (Mountains and Streams: Experiencing Wild Spaces) with poise and style as students delivered original speeches to their peers in their querencia locations. After analyzing varied speech styles from such renowned public speakers as President Obama and Ellen deGeneres, students began to develop their own style, practicing their P.E.G.S. in front of a supportive classroom community (Posture Eye contact Gestures and Smile!).  This project showcased their growing skills in public speaking as well as the ability to synthesize varied experiences into one cohesive exposition. To create their original speeches, they drew from all of their Querencia Journal assignments to find recurrent themes between their own experiences in building a sense of place and those of the American nature authors we had read (Annie Dillard, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Barry Lopez). The result was stunning.

On our first Saturday Class at Alzar School, the entire community followed each student to her querencia spot and watched (and assessed) as she delivered a memorized original speech that was at once self-reflective and analytical. I was blown away. Faced with the formality of the presentation, students donned a greater poise and presence. They were articulate and precise with their words. Above all, the meaning they drew from their time alone in the woods, and the bridges they built to authors’ ideas, was insightful and original. For some, their querencia was a place rich with symbolism – migrating geese became a gaggle of supportive companions, a crumbling hearth became fertile ground for growth. For others, their querencia served as a simple retreat, a mandatory respite from their habitual go-go-go schedules, a chance for reflection and meditation. One by one, each student proved my hopeful hypothesis: when given the space and time, the details one begins to notice can surprise us all.

On scales small and large students have been building the skill of synthesis, learning to connect seemingly disparate experiences and apply skillsets across disciplines. (This, I firmly believe, is one of the most applicable critical thinking tools that will serve students in whatever future they choose for themselves.) For example, after delivering their speeches, students spent the next hour in “Science Class,” using the tools of specific observation they built through detailed narratives in their querencias, and applying them towards data collection in a new location on campus for an Environmental Impact Statement. As we completed one chapter of “bridge building,” we opened another: “Freedom in Solitude: Eccentrics with Impact.”

This next unit seeks to bridge not simply the personal to the literary, but the reflection to the practical application. Continuing to build their annotation skills over the California Expedition, students read Into the Wild and contemplated character and tone through author Jon Krakauer’s posthumous reflection on Chris McCandless. As they reviewed the steps to a multiparagraph argumentative essay, students formed their own opinions of the controversial protagonist, answering the questions: Was his character heroic or foolish? Was he worth following? They analyzed his character according to their own definitions and the vocabulary they are building in Leadership class. Now, they begin to subject themselves to the same discerning microscope.

This week, they are applying their own self-analysis of character to the college application process. We compared our own lists of virtues and vices to the traits highlighted on the Common Application’s Teacher Recommendation form, and contemplated what kind of a community those virtues would build. We then looked at how to synthesize meaningful experiences in a college essay. Today, students are sharing their own responses to the following “Alzar School University’s” college essay prompt: Think back to what you had in your backpack on day one of our California Expedition. How long would you survive out in Marble Mountain Wilderness alone? Which of your character traits would help you, and which would hinder you? What would be your ultimate “hamartia” (your tragic flaw)?

I’m eager to hear what these intrepid bridge-builders have come up with!


Until the next update, know that your student is working hard and growing more confidently (and articulately) into his or her own skin every day.

All my best,

Ellie Moore

English and Introductory Spanish Teacher

Chief Medical Coordinator

Alzar School