The Traveling School Semester 38 has been together as a community for fourteen days. These fourteen days have taken us through orientation, the start of academic classes, adventures in Yellowstone National Park, and so much more!
Students at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park.
Our semester began in a Bozeman hotel conference room, with students coming in from all parts of the country and world. As students and parents arrived, the conference room quickly filled with smiles, introductions, and card games. Items spilled out of backpacks as they were unpacked and repacked. Students picked up their big stack of TTS textbooks.
Snapshots from arrival day!
After a parent info session and some group icebreakers, we sat down to a dinner filled with many questions, laughter, and get-to-know-you type conversations. In the evening, we prepared students for tomorrow–our first full day together—and a travel day!
In the morning, we packed our two vans and drove into Montana’s Paradise Valley. On our way, we stopped for lunch on the banks of the Yellowstone River and had students journal about their hopes and goals for the semester. Then we settled into two hilltop cabins, where we spent the next five days in student orientation, getting to know each other and setting norms for the next fifteen weeks together.
In the first days of Orientation, we continued with plenty of silly games and icebreakers, while also digging deeper–holding discussions about inclusive and exclusive communities, personal growth, and shared values. We spent a morning at AMB West’s Challenge Course, working together and encouraging each other to solve problems. We cooked and ate each meal together, and even spent a couple evenings warming our feet around a fire. As students and teachers got to know each other better, we revealed mentor-mentee pairings, and each student had a one-on-one meeting with their mentor teacher to chat about how they were settling into the group and semester.
Students work on their community contract together.
Together as a group of teachers and students, we discussed inclusive group dynamics and everyone showed their dedication to creating a kind, inclusive community in our first community circle. Through a collaborative process, we created a beautiful community agreement that included phrases such as “untangle small knots before they become big knots,” “willingness to change and believe that others can change,” and “center joy, it’s rad.” We wrote the community agreement on a big sheet of butcher paper, as well as a soccer ball for a more travel-friendly version.
After a few days of orientation, we introduced academics and had our first formal classes! Science class was first. Our lead science teacher Becky and science apprentice teacher Malia led students on trails to explore and interrogate the natural landscape. Then, Biz’s literature class engaged students in journaling and poetry. In Global Studies, we talked about the danger of a single story and discussed what single stories we might hold about the American West, as well as what single stories people might hold about us. Students also reflected on how history has been taught to them and from what sources. To break up our studies, we held our first PE class, starting with a run and a short circuit workout. Later, students with independent study classes checked in with teachers about what the semester would look like with respect to their self-direct work. After dinner, we had our first study hall, our Sunday through Thursday evening routine where students have a quiet 1.5-2 hour period to work on homework.
Next thing we knew, we were off! We said goodbye to our first landing spot, and headed to Gardiner, Montana, the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Here we settled into a larger cabin with an indoor kitchen, living room, and breathtaking valley views from the deck. This was our home base for two full days while exploring Yellowstone National Park.
The view from the deck of our cabin right outside of Yellowstone – a perfect place to do homework!
The northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park is currently closed to most visitors due to construction from flooding earlier this year. We were extremely lucky to travel into Yellowstone through this entrance with a local tour operator, and as a result, we enjoyed a mostly-empty northern section of the park. Our first day focused on geothermal features and Yellowstone’s history. Our guide, Hanna, taught us about a “recipe” for geothermal activity and guided us to many different types of geothermal features, including the famous Old Faithful. We also spent some solo time making watercolor paintings near the aptly named Solitary Geyser.
Wildlife watching in the national park!
In the van, we listened to several podcasts about the wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s. This primed us for our second day in Yellowstone—wildlife day! We departed at 6 AM for a day of seeing bison, elk, pronghorns, and wolves. Students were ecstatic to see a rare glimpse of the park’s wolves. We also encountered and spoke with Rick McIntyre, the renowned wolf researcher who has written extensively about the wolves of Yellowstone. Our wildlife day ended with PE class – which consisted of a swim in the Yellowstone river!
Our time at Yellowstone coincided with weekend festivities. On Friday night, teachers gave out awards to students, a weekly TTS tradition. This semester’s awards include Academic All-Star (given to a student who shines in academics that week), Internal Alchemist (given to a student who shows a willingness to change and grow in themselves), Grandmother (given to a student who helps foster an inclusive community), and Holder of Horizons (given to a student who fully embraces the places and lands we visit). Since we had just started classes, we did not give out an Academic All-Star award, but presented the others: Wyethe won the Internal Alchemist award for her willingness to embrace a growth mindset; Nell was deemed our community’s Grandmother for all her hard work in creating an inclusive group space; and Ella was named Holder of Horizons for her participation in morning meditation and desire to learn the names of mountain ranges, plants, and animals in each location we visit. Per TTS tradition, student award winners will decide which student receives their award the next week!
We then enjoyed Friday night festivities; this week’s festivity was a game of “Teacher Bingo”—an invented game where students learned more about their teachers as humans while also trying to create an intact ecosystem with the “points” they gained. On Saturday night, following a spontaneous living room dance party, teachers presented the Week in Review and Week in Preview through a silly space-themed skit before we settled in for our weekly circle. This weekly circle is a special time where students can reflect on their week, as well as express community concerns; take ownership for any hurtful or regrettable behavior; celebrate group or individual successes; and share gratitudes. This weekly circle helps us practice this particular semester’s commitment to “untangle small knots before they become big knots.”
On Sunday morning, we left Yellowstone and headed back into Bozeman, where we camped just outside of town near to local hot springs! In Bozeman, we have been focused on holding classes and hearing from guest speakers. Author of American Zion, Betsy Quammen, spoke to us about myths of the American West–and even gave students a sneak preview of her not-yet published book.
Our classes are picking up, our headlamp-lit study halls are busy, and we are currently busy preparing for our ten-day canoe expedition on the Missouri River! Teachers and students alike can’t wait to paddle into the backcountry and settle into a rhythm on the river.