“Immersive” is a word we often use to inform future participants about their upcoming experience on Hurricane Island. It’s hard not to be immersed in the Hurricane community when coming to the island. Our island schedule impacts people’s time, and during prescribed meal times, participants eat the delicious food our chefs prepare. Participants disconnect from technology, relying on the present community for all social interaction. Rustic housing and outdoor showers with sunrise views solidify the place-based experience, and people bond over the natural beauty that surrounds them.
As staff members living on Hurricane for the season, we have such a long time to adjust to the lifestyle that it becomes familiar, and sometimes we forget how the immersive environment may feel to the participants who join us for the first time. In December, Director of Education Dr. Jenn Page and I were reminded of the participant perspective as we experienced it ourselves. We traveled to Petaluma, California for a week of learning with the Beetles Leadership Institute at the Walker Creek Ranch.
Beetles, short for Better Environmental Education, Teaching, Learning, and Expertise Sharing, is a research-based project out of Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, providing resources to outdoor science programs. During our week of learning, Jenn and I were two of ~50 program leaders focused on strategies to train field instructors, considering both curricular approaches and organization-level protocols to improve science teaching and learning.
In California, we were the participants, dependent on our hosts to feel safe, nourished, and rested. I am grateful to the staff at Walker Creek for providing many delicious meals and snacks, while accommodating a diverse array of dietary restrictions. The Beetles staff had so much content to cover during the week, and I appreciate that they provided both intentional reflection time and a bit of unscheduled free time each day. One of the biggest takeaways for me was the value of continual reflection to improve practice. As such, Jenn and I are planning to incorporate reflection opportunities for our staff this season.
During our free time, some days, I prioritized a power nap, while other days, I explored the area around the ranch or bonded with fellow participants. I relied on them for humor and as conversation partners to process the experience. We grew our personal and professional networks, and I hope we keep in touch and cross paths again. One morning, a number of us woke up early for a guided sunrise hike up to Walker Peak. This hike, as we set out in the dark, reminded me of the night hike we do with students on Hurricane. Instead of leading the hike on trails I’ve walked hundreds of times like I do on Hurricane, I was unfamiliar with my surroundings and put my full trust in our guide George and my headlamp. This hike connected me to the natural beauty of Petaluma, as I watched the pink sunrise over the hills, and noticed frost crystals on the grass as we hiked down to breakfast.
Overall, having a week dedicated to learning in the Beetles environment, largely free of distractions from other aspects of life, allowed for so much attention to the community and the topics. We were continually able to build upon insights from previous sessions and days. Jenn and I have brainstormed numerous ways to incorporate some of our Beetles learnings into the Hurricane Island experience. We recognize how the immersive environment at the Beetles Leadership Institute allowed for productive growth. Fully submerged, I felt the transformative power of being in an intentional environment for a week. I hope our participants on Hurricane similarly feel the positive impacts of our immersive environment when they join our community.