Localized Learning

Alzar School | 27.01.21

In the few days that have passed since their arrival, Semester Eighteen students have begun to orient themselves to life at Alzar School’s Idaho campus. They are settling into essential routines for success, such as fetching food from the dining hall, chopping wood, exploring our snow-covered campus, and investigating their yurt mates’ shared interests.

Students eating a socially distanced breakfast.

During this first week of school, the Alzar School community is also engaging in daily book club conversations; students and faculty are reading and discussing Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm. In the book, a memoir about several months spent residing in a canvas tent and working in a remote Idaho forest, Fromm details the day-to-day tasks he endured to survive through long winter months, as well as his mentality shifts and general “mountain man” (mis)adventures.

In many ways, this book parallels students’ experiences at Alzar School. Students will need to burn wood, harvested from our local forest surrounding the campus to keep warm through the winter months, (check out the previous Chopping with a Purpose blog) while sleeping in canvas yurts. Snowshoeing will be a means of travel and exploration around our campus for the winter months. Students will have the opportunity to gaze at the moonlight reflected across the snowy landscape during evening meetings. Most similarly to Fromm’s experiences, students will learn by making mistakes.

Students learning the invaluable skill of chopping wood.

Students have read Indian Creek Chronicles in semesters past, yet the story feels especially relevant as this Spring 2021 cohort currently knows the Alzar School campus as nothing but blanketed in snow! Although routines are an essential foundation for the Alzar School community, snow cover is just one example of change that is inevitable. Indeed, a dynamic progression is on the horizon for our students. A number of these routines will change with the seasons, especially after the culmination of our initial quarantine by yurt group, and each student will find their own cadence. Just as for Pete Fromm during his adventure, the same is true for many Alzar School students: homesickness waxes and wanes (often abating entirely), river flow slows, snowpack runs off mountainsides, comfort comes and goes, muscle mass grows (our brains too!), challenge persists and approaches towards tackling hardship ever-evolve.

Students snowshoe around campus.

What remains the same is only this: we learn from the places through which we travel. The land is our teacher and we are nurtured by those around us.

Something Alzar School strives for is education through place-based methods. What this means is that our learning is grounded in our locality: history, environment, culture, and literature (https://promiseofplace.org/). For instance, Nez Perce Pass, which is discussed in Indian Creek Chronicles and is approximately 100 miles (as a crow flies) from campus, refers to a North American Indigenous group that has historically resided in and traveled through these lands (see previous blog post for a bit of background on the Nez Perce People). The Payette River that runs through campus is named after Francious Payetee, a French explorer in the region. The hills we climb build our bodies and minds and through exposure and exhaustion, we learn to care for ourselves and each other. By putting our feet on the trails and hands in the water we connect with these places and the lessons they hold.

Apple pressing at a local farm.

Several students have expressed that they love it here already and that, so far, Alzar School has exceeded their expectations. One student even said that “my yurt feels like home and my yurt mates feel like family” and we are confident that the trend will continue. We are thrilled to see students abuzz with continued excitement for what is to come this semester. 

  • About the author: Rachel Ackerman is a Science Teacher and a Blog Coordinator at Alzar School. Feel free to contact her at rackerman@alzar.org with comments, concerns, and interesting topics for future blog posts!