Copper River Record August 16, 2018
By Robin Mayo
The office is quiet this morning, and full of ghosts. Last week WISE said goodbye to two staff members, Americorps Volunteer Mikaela Dalton, and Environmental Education Intern Matthew Roman. They gave their tremendous talents, energy and enthusiasm to WISE, and will be greatly missed. Their leaving stirred up memories of other WISE staff who have filled this office over the years. Matt, Lyda, Jamie, Kiana, Tim, Tommy….we miss you too!
Mikeala Dalton arrived last August, and spent a full year with WISE as an Americorps Service Member. She was part of a program sponsored by RurAL CAP, a statewide profit which focuses od improving the quality of life for rural Alaskan residents. The Resilient Alaska Youth program sends Americorps volunteers all over the state to work with our most valuable resource, our youth. Mikaela graduated from University of Vermont with a degree in Global Studies. With experience in Outdoor Education as both participant and instructor, she was the perfect person to get our new Outdoor Wilderness Leadership Skills (OWLS) program up and running.
“I grew up loving the feeling of awe; a reverence and wonder for the world around us. That feeling when you’re alone in a tall woods, or on top of a mountain you struggled to climb…It’s that feeling that sends shivers down your spine, makes your hair stand on end, and gives you goosebumps.” Mikaela Dalton
As well as writing the curriculum for OWLS, Mikaela helped plan and implement WISE programs old and new during her year. Since her marching orders included spending as much time with youth as possible, she was able to teach snowshoeing at Kluti-Kaahs spring break program, camp out for a week at Chosen Frozen, and hang out with the preschoolers at Copper River Native Association. Whenever possible she put on her favorite costume, a fuzzy fox onesie, and used her creativity for skits and engaging hands-on lessons.
Mikaela’s greatest accomplishment by far was developing the OWLS program. Starting with brainstorming, a detailed logic model, presenting a proposal to the School District curriculum committee, and capturing a full set of lesson plans, this new program simply would not have happened without her talent and commitment.
Matt Roman was with us for just 10 weeks, but we definitely filled those weeks! Florida is home to Matt, and he is a student at Columbia University in Manhattan, so taking up residence in the rustic cabin at WISE for the summer was definitely a change of pace. Matt is a natural teacher and full of enthusiasm, a great fit for jumping into a myriad of programs. He took on a wide variety of tasks, from maintaining the van to giving WISE’s digital presence some much needed attention, to holding the hands of our youngest hikers as they explored.
“The past few months have been much more than some internship I can sum up on a resume….Life is just different out here, the sense of community is one of the strongest I’ve ever felt…We all may have a clear idea of the beauty of the natural world, what I’ve come to realize is that it can really change the way we think and feel. It can make us more aware, more connected with ourselves and others, and on the whole more complete.” Matthew Roman
Most importantly, both Mikaela and Matt embraced their roles as members of the WISE and Copper Valley communities. They volunteered their time to work on the new bridge at Wellwood Nature Preserve, and took advantage of many opportunities to be a part of daily life here.
How will WISE fill the gaping holes left by these two? After the summer season is done, we will assess our finances and decide what help is needed for the upcoming year. Chances are very good that we will once again host an Americorps Volunteer, we’ve had some amazing people through this program, and really like to be a part of RurAL CAP’s Resilient Alaska Youth network. And hopefully we will host another intern next summer. As programs like OWLS and Copper River Stewardship Program nurture local teens in outdoor and leadership skills, it is our hope that Copper Valley youth will fill these roles.
In the meantime, I’m getting used to the empty desks, and reminding myself to check the oil!
Copper River Record June 14, 2018
WISE is wasting no time in starting summer adventures! We spent the first beautiful week of June with our brand new Outdoor and Wilderness Leadership Skills program (OWLS) backpacking for four days in the Wrangell – St Elias National Park and Preserve, learning valuable skills about leadership and traveling in the backcountry.
Even with the sporadic rain and hail storms blowing through, our team couldn’t be distracted from the many lessons and activities we had planned for them. Everything from knot tying, to risk management, to creating a healthy meal plan was covered and practiced in just four days. Need to find your way with a map and compass? Ask an OWL! Don’t remember all seven principles to Leave No Trace and responsible backcountry travel ethics? They have the answers at the tips of their fingers, just ask them!
While the focus of the OWLS program is certainly about gaining skills, we also fit in plenty of fun! We went on a beautiful day hike singing Disney classics, spent countless hours solving riddles, played fun games, and everyone showed off their dancing skills learning the boot dance! Anyone who’s ever gone on a backcountry trip knows that when the weather turns sour, knowing how to have fun and entertain your group can be the best skill you have, and these kids got it!
With part one of the OWLS program complete, our students now move on to the Independent Learning portion of the program. Students will job shadow professionals in fields they are interested in around the Copper River Basin, they will lead their own mini-expeditions, and they will be assistants on WISE programs taking on responsibility as leaders. After continued practice and mastery of their skills, they will plan and lead their Final Expedition to receive their final grade and .5 credit for the program in August.
We are so excited to continue the rest of the summer with this impressive cohort and see what they do next!
By Mikaela Dalton
WISE is excited to announce that the Outdoor and Wilderness Leadership Skills program (OWLS) will be ready for its first team of students this summer, 2018! If you are or know a teen in high school who is interested in learning to be a more competent backcountry explorer, learn leadership skills, and discover a variety of outdoor job opportunities right here in the Copper River Valley, then apply to be part of the first ever OWLS cohort of leaders!
This program will happen in three stages throughout the summer and earn a .5 credit from the Copper River School District as an Elective Credit. The first part will be the four-day Introductory Expedition hiking in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve to enhance their backcountry capabilities and begin learning some technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills for the backcountry. We’ll go over trip planning and time management, back country nutrition, map and compass skills, leadership styles, knot tying, risk management, and so much more.
Our second stage is full of Independent Learning. With the help and guidance of WISE, one option for students will be to job shadow professionals in the area to see what a day in the life would be like of a park interpreter, a land surveyor, a wildlife biologist, an environmental scientist, an adventure guide, etc. Students will also be encouraged to come on WISE community programs as assistants to learn more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting on outdoor program and taking care of participants.
As part of the Independent Learning section, we also want our students to practice planning an expedition on their own. Even if it is just a day hike or a short trip, they will write out the full itinerary, their food/meal plan, mileage, and all the considerations they need to make ahead of time in preparation for an expedition. These are all things they will learn on the Introductory Expedition and will use on the Final Expedition.
The middle section of the program is meant to be flexible so that students can still travel with their families over the summer or have jobs. They will only do the Independent Learning options on dates that work in their schedules, and WISE will help each student plan a successful summer.
Finally, the program will end with an expedition planned and lead by the students. Working together and being in communication with each other over the summer, they will plan a 3-4 day expedition, choosing the location, distance, means of transport, food, gear, and make all the necessary preparations together. If there are questions we will help, but for the most part we want them to use each other! This expedition will be their final project where we will look to see how well they utilize the technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills they learned, how well they planned for and prepared the expedition, and how they manage obstacles they encounter.
We are excited for this program to create a team of teen leaders in the Copper River Valley who care for and love the place they grew up in and want to learn more about the future opportunities here and gain the skills to get a head start towards those careers. If you have questions about the program or want to apply, email Robin Mayo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the WISE office at 907-822-3575. We can’t wait to take flight!
By Mikaela Dalton
Do you know a high school student who loves to be outside? Who wants to master their outdoors skills, and learn what it means to be a leader?
WISE is excited to announce a new program for high school students in the Copper River Valley; meet the Outdoors and Wilderness Leadership Skills program, OWLS! We are in the process of designing the OWLS program and curriculum for teens who want to learn technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills that will prepare them for a future in a variety of outdoors jobs and as future leaders.
Students will master technical skills such as orienteering, knot tying, backcountry cooking and nutrition, interpersonal skills like conflict resolution, group management, and risk management, and develop their own leadership style among many more skills.
The OWLS will program start early in the summer with a multi-day backpacking trip. Students will get to know one another and the WISE staff while getting their hands on equipment and learning critical backcountry skills. We’ll continue regular meetings throughout the summer, each one with a new skill to learn and practice those we learned before.
Towards the middle of the summer, students will join WISE community programs as assistants and step into leadership roles at each stage; from packing and preparing gear and food, to managing groups on trail, to caring for and evaluating the condition of gear and supplies after the programs to give them an insight into what it takes to lead wilderness adventures.
The program will culminate with another multi-day expedition completely designed, prepared, and run by the OWLS students. They will choose what type of adventure they want to do, prepare all the gear, create a menu and portion out the food, and create and follow their own itinerary. WISE staff will be participants on the final expedition, there only to assist if need be. By the end of the summer, our students will be well prepared to handle leading on their own, creating a powerful team of local teen leaders.
OWLS will be separate from the Copper River Stewardship program, which will also happen this summer as usual. Where Stewardship program focuses on science and academics while being outdoors, OWLS will focus on surviving and thriving in the wilderness and learning what it takes to be a leader in a backcountry setting. The leadership practices learned outdoors can be used in any situation, not just the backcountry. For those ambitious high school students who are interested, we will allow qualified and driven students to participate in both programs.
This program is still in the preliminary stages of planning and obtaining funding, but this spring we will start looking for interested teens. We are working currently with the Copper River School District so that students could earn a half-credit for participating and completely the necessary work. We look forward to exploring with you!
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.