Amid the many languages spoken at Seattle World School on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, a new one was introduced in March, the language of the Pacific Northwest forest. A grant from Outdoor Nation, with the laudable motto Be An Outsider!, allowed Greenway education staff to work with 50 to 100 middle to high school age English Language Learners. The staff’s goal was to open up the world of Washington’s native forests to students from countries such as Vietnam, Mexico, Iraq, Russia, and Somalia.
A visit to the Seattle World School immerses one into a high energy atmosphere where students are determined to learn English and make connections to their new home. The high school teacher, Laurel, engages her students with popular songs, video, and debates on the controversial Super Bowl Coca-Cola commercial. In the newcomer class, very little English is spoken but there is a lot of laughter and students work one-on-one with volunteer tutors as they interpret the script of a popular TV show.
Mountains to Sound Greenway educators introduced these industrious students to our local forest ecosystem by teaching the vocabulary of the forest: Banana Slug, Douglas Fir, Trillium, Sword Fern, sun, water, soil, and air.
Adapting Greenway Education materials for this culturally complex audience was challenging. How do you communicate the rule “Stay on the trail” through pictures? How do you explain photosynthesis? How do you teach about the interdependence of the elements of our ecosystem? The answer, visually pleasing images with bingo games, web-of-life images, and rules of hiking in the forest portrayed through role play in a humorous manner.
In addition to learning about the science of our forests Greenway staff strives to provide a positive, fun, and safe first time experience in our beautiful landscape. Through learning the language of our forests we expect students to gain an increased appreciation and understanding of the natural world that surrounds them.