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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2021-22
Cispus Learning Center
Braille Trail.JPG
Students Thriving and Thirsting for Experience
Whatever the weather, all students shine in outdoor education settings
Chase Buffington
Director, Cispus Learning Center
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a culture, Improving Instruction, Closing the Gap
Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot, We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not. – Anonymous
Students are demanding from the world: let my resilience shine.
It has been no fault we are socially trained to investigate our devices or vices for answers. We need and plead for a relationship, requesting someone like-minded or trending, a list that can cascade into dead ends with no receiver picking up.
Luckily, here in Washington, school principals have resources for action and a great playbook to meet student needs. Cispus Learning Center, located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, has 68 acres of no cell phone service – just peace and serenity. A location offers a multi-tool approach, where programs by the Association of Washington Student Leaders complement the classroom curriculum, where "student voice" on our challenge course program strengthens cultural understanding.
Creating a Culture How did this place come to fruition? AWSP’s passion for students and understanding of excellent education lies beyond four walls, trusting in students' abilities to lead outside the classroom.
What might this destination have in store? Initial thoughts might be, "nature is scary," but what we have in store is much more. Many have considered it “Cispus Magic.” Simply put, basic necessities are taken care of; all feel equitable in existence, leading students and staff to create opportunities for growth.
When students live together in a residential setting, student success is accelerated. The primary lessons are interstitial moments between classes. It happens during meals, cabin time, before bed, trail hiking, campfire skits, and even a marshmallow advancing with flame. The realization that beyond the classroom, when the lesson is over, we continue to gather. Students are reliant on others; the teachers, chaperones, and teen counselors are more than a thing but are your community. Collectively, we can let our resilience shine, discover empathy, rejoice in growth, and knowingly find we are in this together.
Little did I know the end of my quest for self-worth would begin in the middle of the woods at a place called the Cispus Learning Center. In less than a week, I learned more about myself and my role in this world than I had imagined was possible. — Jared Richardson (GRADE?)
Braille Trail For All One of my favorite activities at the Cispus Learning Center is the Braille Trail hike. My preference is to experience it at night. I’ve gathered small groups of students who can see, walked them out to the starting rope, and told them to close their eyes, turn their flashlights off, and join in walking the half-mile flat land adventure through the forest.
  I used to try it in silence but found the best way to facilitate this is to refrain from setting boundaries. Why? Because it's hard for anyone to lose control and a primary ability to be handicapped. It brings out fears, anxieties, and much more. Now the significant part about this is to stage the obvious when you have had enough, and enough can come quickly. Let go of the Braille Trail rope and turn on your light, staying with the group till finished. You can only imagine the personalities, the grit, the breakdowns, and the swath of emotions on this journey. 
What might be a good debrief question once completed?
  ·      Who in the group made you feel a certain way? ·      What made you give up and turn on the light? ·      Where did you think we were going? Did you even care?  ·      When did you feel like this before? ·      Why would we do an activity like this? ·      How did it feel losing control?  ·      Can we complete this activity if we try again?
Ponder with me, having not completed this and only imagined the outcome; as an administrator, parent, teacher, and other adults, where in the real world has something like this happened to you?
I can tell you this from experience: the students were more connected to one another, felt the essence of empathy for others who struggle, and felt the need to help, to serve, get themselves out of a mess, and to persevere. Through the opportunity of perceived risk, they lifted themselves to listen to their intuition. It carried a mix of emotions and opened communication channels for the rest of their camp experience, the school year. It made me think daily for students, “What if we never? What would we lose? Too much, realizing my fears.”

Look to This Day The Sufi, 1200 B.C. Look to this day, For it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the varieties and realities of your existence; The bliss of growth, the glory of action, The splendor of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness And every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day, Such is the salutation of the dawn.