Every time I am in a new place of quiet beauty I thank God for waking early in the morning when the world is new, when the mist is still rising off the lake, two paddling loons trail V-ripple wakes across the shimmering reflection of the setting full moon. On a morning like this I am first sad that I don’t have an expensive camera and great photographer’s eye, and then happy that I don’t, the better to quietly record the moment in space and time, one that is gone with the rising light, the arrival of clouds, the season’s turn, winter freeze. It is late April; there is morning frost on the carpet of last winter’s brown dead leaves, and the undergrowth shrubs are starting to bud.
One does not come to Kieve-Wavus by accident or by whim! It took me over six hours to drive here from the heart of the Hudson River Valley. In the early evening I dropped down to the shore of Damariscotta Lake, an hour north of Portland on the granite Maine coast and found my host Thomas Steele-Marley (@Steelmaley) waiting for me at a rustic two-story guest house on the grounds of the Keive Camp, a place where no doors are ever locked and the canoes lie overturned in the trees waiting for the next cohort of young Maine-sters to arrive for a week of learning. We walked through the now-quiet camp, the latest group of students having departed yesterday, ate a home-made pizza in “my cabin” on the lake, and talked of many things.
Kieve-Wavus has been here for more than a century, a place for young boys and girls to come and learn about the nature of Maine, the foundations of leadership, and themselves. It is also the home of the Kennedy Learning Center, a place where adults come on retreat, where there are no televisions, cars, or the next airplane to intercede. I won’t reprise their program here; go to their website. I will only say that this is “old school” in the most pure sense of the expression. This is the place the Progressives had in mind when they told us that experience is the best teacher.
In September 2014, Thomas and his wife Lisa and their team are going to start their Bridge Year program here, a gap year for students who have finished middle school but who want to take a breath before diving in to the high school rush to the college line. Their first class will be 24, co-ed, and they plan to grow to 40 or 60, or maybe more over time as the program refines. (Lord knows they don’t have a problem with finding space here to build another dorm or two!) They are developing a unique program based around student-owned, experiential learning that will envelop traditional classroom subjects, not start with them. They have the world of coastal Maine at their doorstep, a learning space in which to weave the diverse life paths of their students into a common learning community for the year. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, and the good thing is that Thomas does not either. He knows the bounds of the system, and within those bounds the learning community will develop through inspection, introspection, and experience. This summer, they will host a three day Educators Conference in late July (see their web site for registration information), limited to just 20 participants, to jointly investigate this type of experiential learning, using the incredible resources of Kieve-Wavus to see it through the eyes of the student. I hope to come back to participate in the conference; get in touch with Thomas to learn more.
Saturday was as good as it gets in Maine in the spring, close to 60 degrees of flawless sunshine with just a slight southeasterly breeze. I joined Thomas, his family and two of the dynamic, young Bridge Year faculty for their first paddle of the season, kayaking on the salt water out of the Kieve-Wavus boat house and landing, tide-pooling around Hog Island, and back for a lunch of local produce.
In the afternoon we had one of the more remarkable conversations of my career and I won’t begin to write about it now. Shoshana Zuboff and Jim Maxmin are world-renowned authors, educators, speakers, consultants to industry from Harvard and MIT, respectively. They are experts in change, innovation, turn-around, and so much more. We spent five hours talking about changing education, schools and learning. I will share some of this as time goes on; I have a lot of their writing to catch up with!
Thanks to Thomas and the marvelous folks at Keive-Wavus of a weekend for the memory banks, and I look forward to keeping deeply connected with them in the future.