Dear Editor,

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 this quest.

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 site.

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 Doctoral Candidate, has introduced a group of his at-risk students at an alternative school to some applied ecopsychology nature sensitivity educational materials.

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 Administrators.

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:




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 and fertilizers.

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," she said.



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."



Vancouver Columbian


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 it happen.

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 and teacher.

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 classes.

"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 that simple.



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 themselves.

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 of support.

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. later

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.

Gillian Brandon

We invite you to support the students in their quest for balance and responsible relationships.



MAY 1, 1997

Dear Friends,

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 <kdavies@e-z.net>


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.



Special NGO consultant United Nations Economic and Social Council



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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 problems.

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.

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