Help! Who needs to be educated and who is educating who?
As reported in the Vancouver, Washington newspaper The Columbian
and the Portland, Oregon, Oregonian, at the Pan Terra High School
in Vancouver WA, a counselor is using nature
sensitivity techniques with at-risk students who are living
far below the poverty level and are in chemical dependency and
physical abuse recovery.
The counselor has documented that the group is getting remarkable
recovery results. In addition, the
students have petitioned that their proposed new school retain
and protect a small natural wildlife habitat as part of its campus.
With it, say the students, they can continue to reap the benefits
of their recovery program, help fellow at-risk students do the
same, and support threatened wildlife with additional green space.
These young people have come around enough in just six months
so that they are now, in person, mind you, making effective presentations
to Vancouver Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools
and other authorities. They have cleaned up and unchoked a trashed
natural area, too. Here we have "at risk" students
successfully writing mission statements and grants to save a
small natural area from becoming a parking lot. They have, in
addition, involved many parents and community organizations in
What 'normal" high school student has these skills or
motivations? This is mature, adult, participatory behavior, and
perhaps a long sought, desperately needed breakthrough for responsible
citizenship and balanced budgets. It is therefore alarming that
the School Board and Administration are denying the student's
simple request for their presently intact natural area not to
be bulldozed into a parking lot for which there is an alternative
Have we gone mad? Has the educational system learned nothing
since Silent Spring? Who needs to be educated, the students or
the administration? Who is really at-risk and a risk?
Michael J. Cohen,
Friday Harbor, Washington
Nature Reconnecting Alternative
Education Activities Dissolve Apathy and Promote Balanced Self-Improvement.
"This place is stressed by pollution
and everything, I could really connect to it because I was, too."
-Angela Lucas, Pan Terra High School student
April 22, 1997
November, 1996: Counselor Larry Davies, an Applied Ecopsychology
has introduced a group of his at-risk students at an alternative
school to some applied ecopsychology nature sensitivity educational
These students have been selected for the program because
they live 180% below the poverty level, have been sexually or
physically abused and are chemically dependent.
Testing of the use of the materials in conjunction with natural
areas has shown dramatic improvement in mental health, self-esteem,
sleeplessness, depression, stress management, school attendence,
academic achievement, environmental awareness and community participation.
Within 6 months these students have successfully written grants,
and effectively presented their work to Education Boards and
The nature sensitivity ecopsycholgy materials used with the
students include: The Global Wellness and Unity Activity "In Balance With Earth" in
the book RECONNECTING WITH NATURE:
Finding Wellness through restoring your bond with the Earth..
From the experience, the students identified the personal
out-of-balance victimization of their lives with that of other
at-risk organisms, people, natural areas and Planet Earth.
Through group counseling, workshops with the book's author
Dr. Michael J. Cohen and further use of the book and its activities,
the students bonded as a community. They also bonded to saving
a trashed natural area near their forthcoming new school .
From The Oregonian April 21, Portland, Oregon:
REHABILITATING VACANT LOT SPARKS STRUGGLE AT ALTERNATIVE
THE COUNSELOR FOR 15 PAN TERRA STUDENTS WILL APPEAL THE PROJECT'S
DENIAL BY VANCOUVER SCHOOLS BEFORE THE SCHOOL BOARD APRIL 30.
By Holley Gilbert Corum
A berry- and tree-covered smidgen of land near Pan Terra Alternative
School has become a thorny problem.
Counselor Larry Davies said 15 students want to bring the
plot, smaller than an acre, back to health as they work themselves
back to health from addictions and other troubles.
"This community is being choked by alien plants and stressed
by pollution, abandonment and major loss," the teens said
in an application to a Clark County fund for youth, which awarded
them $1,000 for the project.
"As we remove the blackberries and ivy, we will work
on removing the toxins from our lives. As we plant healthy trees,
we will learn new healthy ways to survive," the youths said.
But James F. Parsley, superintendent of the Vancouver School
District, said preserving the overgrown area doesn't make sense
economically or from a security standpoint.
"Clearly security is one of our biggest concerns with
that school, or any school really," he said Friday. Students,
he noted, could duck into the area and out of sight.
Saving the plot would require reconfiguring plans for a new
alternative school's parking lot, and that would cost thousands
of dollars, Parsley said. The poor quality of the natural landscaping
does not warrant the expense, the superintendent told Davies
in an April 3 letter.
Parlsey said Friday that Davies' proposal came too late, after
staff and parents participated in a one and a half year -long
planning and design process.
But Davies said he was not told when the plans were finalized
and received no answers to questions last fall about whether
work on the 180 by 180 foot plot would interfere with the design.
Hearing no word to the contrary, Davies and his students applied
for and got the grant, started clearing weeds and became committed
to the project.
The students plan to remove harmful and non-native vegetation
and replant the area to attract wildlife. If allowed, they say
they are willing to landscape the entire new school campus.
The Vancouver Police Department plans to open a precinct in
the Pan Terra School at 2800 Stapleton Road. The district will
build a new alternative high school.
Davies said the school district has offered alternatives -
landscaping the new parking lot or a nearby, cleared site. But
convinced that restoring the stressed ecosystem is perfect for
his hands-on learners, Davies declined.
He will press his case before the school board during a noon
meeting April 30. And the students and Davies will speak publicly
at non Tuesday, Earth Day, at the site.
The parcel fronts General Anderson Avenue between Plomondon
Street and Fourth Plain Boulevard.
Davies also has drummed up outside support.
Leigh B. Mascolo, of the environmental services section of
the county's Public Works Department, said the project could
become a model for a school campus planted with something other
than grass and ornamental plants that require chemical pesticides
In March, she wrote to Davies that the Department of Ecology
and the Washington State University Extension's master-gardener
program are interested in such a pilot program at the school.
Tony Angell, supervisor for environmental education for the state
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said Friday that
the project sounds like others that have raised youths' interest
in school in general and science in particular.
Poor self-esteem, discipline, school attendance and learning
problems tend to improve when students become involved in nature
programs. And their collaborative learning, math and social skills
rise, he said.
Angell said security problems decline once the land is put
to a healthy use and accepted by the students. "Cutting
down woods does not diminish perversion or lawlessness,"
He said, "it just moves it somewhere else."
Support also came from Diana Townsend, an environmental education
teacher and president of the 3.000 member Washington Education
Association's Riverside chapter in Southwest Washington.
"I am disappointed in a school district that would place
the importance of a parking area over a project that advances
the education of students, especially those that are at risk,"
A STATEMENT FROM THE STUDENTS AND THEIR COUNSELOR
This trashed area was slated to be paved as a parking lot,
and we did the nature reconnecting
permission activity there. As a result, the student's felt
that the area, like themselves, wanted to recover from the abuse
it received from society. They sensed that, like them, it had
been, in their words: "hurt, molested, invaded and trespassed,"
"It wanted to become healthy or die," "It felt
trashed and overwhelmed," "It had no power, it needed
a fix or help to recover." Since then, the area and their
inner nature has given them permission to enlist the support
of social and environmental agencies to save the area from becoming
a parking lot. Instead the garbage will be removed and it will
recover as an indigenous natural area. It will be nurtured and
nurturing, support wildlife, an educational and therapeutic nature
sanctuary for the school, and a host for doing these wonderful
sensory nature reconnecting activities.
The students recently wrote and received a grant to help make
this vision of theirs a reality. Here's what they said in the
grant's vision statement:
"We are a recovery group based on reconnecting with nature.
In our recovery efforts, nature plays a major role. We have choosen
a small piece of wilderness that reflects us as a community.
This wilderness community is being choked by alien plants and
stressed by pollution, abandonment and major loss. We too are
being choked by drugs and stories that pollute our natural self.
We feel abandoned by our society, treated like garbage, and cut
off from nature which fills us with grief. As we remove the garbage,
blackberries and ivy we will work on removing the toxins from
our lives. As we plant healthy trees we will learn new healthy
ways to survive. By protecting this ecosystem we will find the
strength to open our minds, hearts, and souls for the survival
of our Mother Earth and ourselves."
"Paving a POTENTIAL PARADISE?
School district plans a parking lot on land students are restoring
as a nature project.
by Loretta Callahan
"We can't always get what we want. It's that simple."
Superintendent James Parsley
"Their idea of safe is walls surrounding them and
a desk in front. They look at the area and see garbage. We see
a beautiful area." Pan Terra student Joe Giles.
It was meant as a study in nature and healing. Instead, students
at Pan Terra Alternative School are getting a real life lesson
in civics and strife.
The small, neglected nature area they had hoped to restore
to health is slated to become a 32 space parking lot for a new
Pan Terra school. And the adults around them can't seem to agree
on a ways to resolve the problem.. Most can't even agree on how
This much is known: Some time ago, students formed a recovery
group to help them conquer a variety of personal problems and
addictions. "This is a group of kids that is sick and tired
of being sick and tired," said Larry Davies, Pan Terra counselor
Backed by Davies, the students looked for some outward symbol
of the inner difficulties they needed to tackle. They found one.
It was an area choked with blackberry bushes and ivy, where concrete
rubble and garbage lay scattered amid alders and a few tall trees.
"This place is stressed by pollution and everything,"
said Angela Lucas, an 18 year old Pan Terra student. "I
could really connect to it because I was, too."
Despite the predominance of debris and foreign plants, the
land still showed signs of life - birds, frogs and some small
animals. Best of all, the scraggly site was in the southwest
corner of where the Vancouver School District wants to build
a new 13,500 square foot Pan Terra high school, just east of
General Anderson and north of Fourth Plain Boulevard.
In late 1996, the students applied for and later won a $1000
grant from tapping the Talents of Teens, a countywide program
administered by the city of Vancouver. The money was to help
fund the work of pulling out invasive vegetation and replanting
the neglected area with native evergreens and maple trees. But
it wasn't until this spring that students learned school district
drawings show a parking lot in the middle of their project. That
is, despite the district having accepted the $1000 grant, of
which $50 has been spent.
"The problem with the grant is, on the grant, I was the
only one who needed to sign it," Davis said. Davies said
when students were notified they had received the money, he turned
the paperwork and check over to school district officials.
James Parsley, Vancouver School District superintendent, said
he was unaware of the grant request until some time after it
was approved. He discounted the role it might have played in
the disagreement over the parking lot. "I don't feel the
grant alone is the issue," Parsley said.
But Joe Giles, a 16-year-old Pan Terra student involved in
the nature project, said he thinks district officials are afraid
students are going to go to the area and smoke instead of attending
"They're afraid," Giles said, "Their idea of
safe is walls surrounding them and a desk in front. They look
at the area and see garbage. We see a beautiful area. If you
just look past your fears you can see a beautiful area."
Parsley said the district has offered Davies other places
where students could carry out a nature project. "We've
offered to let them do it on the site, just not the site he wants,
and other locations in the city," Parsley said. "It
isn't that we didn't try to work out a compromise... It's a case
of one person (Davies) wanting to prevail over the process."
Davies said the main area offered by the district is flat
and contains no plants or trees. "Why destroy all this and
replant somewhere else?" he said. So far, neither Davies
nor the students have been successful in getting district officials
to change their plans. They will make one last pitch, this time
to the Vancouver School Board, at noon Wednesday at 605 North
Devine Road. "I think the possibilities are very slim, but
I don't care," Giles said. "This area will be ours,
even if it is a parking lot."
Regardless of the outcome, Parsley said the students will
gain by learning about the governmental process and about life.
"We can't always get what we want," Parsley said. "It's
A UPDATE FROM GILLIAN BRANDON FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION
Isn't it ironic? On April 22nd, the newspapers were full of
pictures of smiling little school children planting little trees
in their bare schoolyards for Earth Day.
On May 5th, the Vancouver School District Board of Directors
voted to bulldoze a small plot of land, full of native trees,
plants and flowers, to build a parking lot.
This, in spite of the fact that there are three acres of flat,
totally barren land on the site where they will build the new
Pan Terra Alternative High School. This, in spite of the fact
that a group of 15 Pan Terra students have "adopted"
this small wild area and have been working hard to clean it up,
replant it and make it beautiful. This, in spite of the fact
that these young people have a vision of a peaceful, beautiful
place to help them heal and learn, right on their school campus.
These students have been working with their counselor, Larry
Davies, the whole school year. In their own words, "We have
been labeled "high risk" by educators, but we just
see ourselves as a strong group of students working our way toward
graduation. We are not strangers to family and school problems,
addictions, personal loss and feeling hopeless and helpless.
At present, however, we are feeling empowered by our group and
the activities we have been doing since September."
These NatureConnect activities, based on the field of applied
ecopsychology, have helped these students heal from abandonments,
violence, and lack of self-esteem, disconnect from self-destructive
addictions and activities, and reconnect with feeling of self-worth
and community. They learn to feel the connectedness of their
disturbed inner nature and the disturbed natural world and as
they heal one, they heal the other. Their school work and their
personal lives have improved.
A lot of their work with Mr. Davies has been done in the wild
area they are trying to save. Naturally, they have bonded with
it on a very personal level. It has helped them heal and succeed,
as have they, it.
They want to turn the area into an environmental learning
center. They want to share it with the other students at Pan
Terra and other Vancouver schools. Such activities would help
fulfill the Washington State mandate: "All schools shall
give instruction in...science with special reference to the environment....All
teachers shall stress the importance of ...the worth of kindness
to all living creatures and the land." (RCW 28A.230.020)
They would contribute to one of the District's published "Expectations:"
"Graduates shall appreciate aesthetic and environmental
beauty and be committed to the preservation and management of
the environment." (Source:School Board Policy #2110)
The NatureConnect students will not have the chance. Instead,
one evening soon, they will sit in a circle in this little woodland
to which they have given their hearts and take part in a grieving
circle. Each one will talk in turn about what the woodland has
given to them, what they have given to it, what they love about
it, what they will miss about it. Perhaps they will also say
what it means to them that, once again, the people with the power
have rejected the service they wanted to offer, ignored their
talents, thwarted their learning and wounded their belief in
You will no doubt hear protestations from District Administrators
and Board members that they are not callous, unthinking or uncaring.
That is no doubt true. They expressed to the students that they
were impressed with the students' passion, quality of presentations,
and thoughtfulness. They told the students that they sympathized
with them. One of them even voted with the students as a token
So what stopped them from saving the woodland the students
so desperately fought for? At first, there were several excuses,
such as cost and time. These have been debunked.
The students have researched getting grant money to landscape
the entire school site, potentially saving the district up to
$100,000 in proposed landscaping costs. This is not a pipe dream.
The students have already obtained one $1000 grant for this purpose
from the Office of Neighborhood Associations. They have been
promised another $3,000 from Project Wild, an office of the Fish
and Wildlife Dept. Hewlett Packard offers grants of up to $8000
for science studies projects, which could be obtained for this
project. The EPA is offering large grants for schools which will
put in landscaping which requires low watering and less chemical
fertilizers and weed killers.
There are thousands of grants available for ecology and environmental
education. The students have the promise of free expert help
with design of the landscaping with native plants. Free plants
and trees are available through several resources.
Volunteers are interested in helping with the physical labor,
but we already have a crew of a few hundred kids who could do
the work! The project leaders have been unwilling to consider
the idea that making the landscaping a school wide project to
be carried out by the students themselves could be both a money
savings and a learning experience of great importance. The school
board has stated that they would like to see the students involved
in the landscaping on the other parts of the site, but not the
wild area. They have not seriously considered this proposal.
Objection after objection to saving the wild area falls. So,
in the end, the Pan Terra principal, Steve Friebel and the Superintendent,
Jim Parsley, based their final recommendations, and the School
Board voted, on the issue of safety. Rather than see this as
an opportunity to suppport students who have involved themselves
with a nature-centered recovery program that works, they say
they are concerned for the safety of the students. That people
could hide in the woods. Bad people. People with drugs. People
with guns. Yes, Mr. Parsley even invoked the memory of Jeffrey
Dahlmer! One assumes that they are also, perhaps more, afraid
that someone will get hurt in the woodland and the school district
will be liable and lose a lot of money. It is true that people
sue school districts because they think they have deep pockets.
They have done so for matters reasonable and ridiculous. So,
the real issue is fear. Is it reasonable to run a school district,
to plan education, on the basis of fear?
We have letters from many principals and teachers who have
stated that they would never get rid of their wild areas. They
have said that their wild areas have improved every aspect of
behavior and learning in their students. In fact, they say that
problems such as vandalism and violence have been reduced.
Second, the Pan Terra students have offered an idea for a
solution to the safety issue. They want to form a safety committee.
There are people from the Bagley-Downs Neighborhood Association,
local businesses, the Vancouver Police Department, the Pan Terra
Student body and community volunteers interested in forming this
group to make the whole neighborhood safer. This group would
research safe neighborhood wild areas, help experts design the
landscaping for the whole site, oversee the rehabilitation of
the wild area in such a way as to keep it as safe as possible
and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of their plans and
actions. The students could learn as they work.
This is not an idea that is supported only by the 15 NatureConnect
students. The majority of the students at Pan Terra have signed
a petition stating that they want to have the wild area on their
school grounds. This Safety Committee solution was not actually
considered by the school board.
Fear is a contagious disease. Children catch it from adults.
Is our community in such bad shape that we need to lock children
in buildings every hour of every day? And even if we wanted to,
could we? These are high school students. They drive cars. They
take buses. Sometimes they go to unsavory places. Some of them
take dangerous drugs and hang out with dangerous "friends"
to feel as if they belong to someone. Some of them live on the
streets. They've seen their friends killed. They've grieved when
mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends have committed suicide
or overdosed. They've done things that they know are stupid and
dangerous. Sometimes they do it just to feel something - anything!
Can we protect them from this?
They feel a lot when they are in this little wild area. They
feel tenderness, light, wonder, protectiveness, anger, hope,
joy, community. They feel alive. Without drugs. Without violence.
Without dangerous sex. Ask them. They'll tell you. They can go
on and on about why they love their natural place.
The students have fought a good fight. They have lost a battle.
Do not let them lose their war. They fight on against the destruction
of their future. They fight on for the earth they will inherit.
They fight on to rehabilitate their lives from the self-destructive
paths they were following. They fight on for their education,
the kind they really want and need. They fight on to maintain
the community, hope, and love they have built with each other.
They are to be praised, supported, cherished, taught and loved
by those of us who remember what it was like to be them.
The students have decided not to accept the decision of the
school board as final. They intend to continue their struggle
to save their wild area. Their leader up until now has been their
school counselor, Larry Davies. He has gone as far as he can
within the school district system to try to save this wild area
as a learning and healing place for his students. It would be
imprudent and ineffective for him to continue to lead. It is
time for us, their community, to take over this effort.
The students need our support. Without it, they will not be
able to fight on. They need people who can assist them with research,
legal questions, writing letters, setting up rallies, talking
to friends and neighbors. They need people with political power,
economic resources and personal influence. If you have expertise,
resources, time, or just plain energy to help , please join us.
We invite you to support the students in their quest for balance
and responsible relationships.
MAY 1, 1997
Whew! What a meeting! To eliminate the suspense, I'll tell
you first that no decision was made and the board directed the
administration to meet with us again before they make a decision.
That in itself is some sort of miracle. They want to look at
it again at the next meeting, which we think is this Monday.
The kids were absolutely terrific. Focused, respectful, sweet.
Three of them spoke. And then they did let us show a 5 minute
video with interviews from 5 more of them. Then a parent brought
them 72 signatures on a petition. She's rather "interesting,"
this parent, and we were a little worried about how she was going
to come across. We got a little antsy when she started singing,
but it turned out that it was really appropriate, a sixties song
about paving a parking lot!
Then before we knew what was happening, the board started
to act as if they were going to put the thing to a vote right
then and there and it was headed for doomsday, because theitem
on the table was approving the orginal plans! Then two of the
women board members started to say that they wanted to look more
at the alternatives. They seemed more amenable, more in tune
with the kids. One of them had driven by the wild area and wanted
to walk insdide of it. (The kids later talked with her and offered
to give her the tour!)
After some parliamentary junk, the Board ended up realizing
that if they voted against the kids with no more attempts to
find a solution, they were going to look like uncaring idiots,
(and it seemed to me that Parsley was helping to make them aware
of that), so they started trying to vote on directing the staff
to go ahead with plans but try to make the best compromise. Parsley
rightfully said that that was not an answer because it left the
staff with a really weird direction. Do it, but fix it. So, they
decided not to decide, which at that point was the best we could
hope for. Parsley basically asked them to let him meet with us
again and seewhat we could pound out. They agreed partly to save
their faces, but partly because a few of them were genuinely
hoping to help give something to the kids, within the parameters
of the cost and time factors.
The kids are pumped and still ready to roll. Kurt is pretty
exhausted, but gaining energy slowly and ready for one more round.
Keep sending energy. We felt you there, which was a good thing,
because a lot of the local supporters didn't show up.
The Oregonian showed up and Kurt got to talk to them afterward
and kind of intrigued the guy, I think. After the meeting, I
was up by the desks of the board and saw the copies of the letters,
about a 1 inch stack! Unfortunately, the board had just received
them at the meeting and haven't read them yet, but hopefully,
now they will.
Thanks for your spirited support,
Gaia Davies <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During the summer of 1997, the school
board paved the natural area into a parking lot and another,
more distant, area was designated for use by students in their
nature reconnecting program.
INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL
Special NGO consultant United
Nations Economic and Social Council
Readily available online
tools for the health of person, planet and spirit
P.O. Box 1605 Friday Harbor, WA 98250 360-378-6313
APPLIED ECOPSYCHOLOGY IN ACTION
The Natural Systems Thinking
Michael J. Cohen, Director
Nature Connected Education and Counseling
Courses and Degrees Online
Too often we suffer and feel helpless
because the deterioration of humanity and the environment hurts
us and we are unaware of its cause.
Research demonstrates that the stress arising from our
extreme sensory separation from our nurturing origins in Nature
underlies most of our unsolvable personal, social, and global
In a democracy, to reach our hopes and
dreams the knowledge we discover must be accompanied by a readily
available educational process that motivates and enables
the public to apply the knowledge.
With respect to our destructive disconnection
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