One of the best parts of the River’s program for me was that as a Cohort, both the students and the faculty were one learning community. Whether there was a teacher at the front of the room or a student up there presenting, everybody in that classroom had an open mind to try something new, learn something new, and find something new that they love and are passionate about. On the first day of the program, Michael stood at the front of the room and talked about generally what the semester would look like, although there was no way we really could have known until we went through it ourselves. But I remember him stopping at one point and saying “If you think you have anything more to offer than someone else in this room, you’re wrong. And If you think you have anything less to over than someone else in this room, you’re wrong.”

Now I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking at the time, "How can you know that? You just met us!" But he was right. Every single person in CXI had a special talent, passion, interest and knowledge for something that they could share with the group. And we weren’t just hearing about what other people like to do, but we were getting involved ourselves.

I was learning about history through the music I write, I was learning about science, not by being fed facts in a classroom, but by being out in the world and discovering it for myself. I learned about the dance culture that Jasmil and Frankaris come from and what dance means to them.  And then they taught us some dances. Now will I ever be a good dancer? Probably not. But dance is one of the most direct responses to music, which is what I love to study. So learning about dance helps me learn more about what I love, and it also allows me to connect with what Jasmil and Frankaris love.

I love music, I love performing arts. But Tracie can back me up on this: I’m not very good at the visual arts. However, with the first set of artifacts, I stayed pretty close to my comfort zone and wrote a song and performed it for the group. But I watched others go far beyond their comfort zone and try things that were completely new to them. So I decided for my fire artifact that I was going to make a painting. Sharing my thoughts visually was unfamiliar and a little overwhelming as it was right on the canvas for everyone to see. But that’s what a learning community is all about. It's supporting and being supported. Its inspiring and its being inspired. It's learning and it's teaching. And like a river, it's flowing and it's revolving...

Thank You, Tyler



Throughout the Rivers program I was taught many things, and those things were taught in ways I had never considered. The subject that resonated most deeply with me was one that we spent only one day on, but always seemed to clutter my mind; this was the “factory model school” concept. I remember at one point during this lesson my mouth fell open as I experienced one of the biggest lightbulb moments of my high school career: the education I had grown accustomed to for over a decade is not all there is  – there are other ways to educate!

(Ken Robinson on "Changing School Paradigms")

To this point, the only education that I truly knew was the "Factory" model. Like a factory, in this model, each student was taught the same curriculum, the same way, in order to achieve a similar final result. Though this is effective when mass producing merchandise, the same method should not be used on students; students are multifaceted, their unique qualities cannot be properly utilized when they are all being treated the same.  

As time passed, this factory model seen in schools began to dissipate, and project-based learning started to be used more in classrooms. But whispers of this machine-like curriculum still echoes through the halls of schools today.  Education should incorporate experiential learning and personal growth as well as academics in order to be successful. A person’s experiences are what create them. You are born with your body,  your chromosomes and your heart, but from there, what you see, hear, and feel is what molds you. Burning your hand for the first time on the stove as a child, teaches you that danger exists, but can be avoided. Living through a hurricane, reveals the incredible and at times unforgiving strength of the earth. These events that shape us cannot be told or lectured in a classroom. Though we are not lighting our hands on fire or chasing hurricanes around the country as a class, though that would be cool, Rivers has bent these unsaid rules of education in the best possible way.

In the beginning of our Rivers unit, we learned about the water table with Peter Nichol. In an earth science classroom, we may have looked at slides and have taken notes from a textbook; I am not arguing that this method is not beneficial for anyone, it just can’t be beneficial for everyone. On this day Mr. Nichol did show us slides and described our SuAsCo watershed, but the second half of the day was dedicated for those who learn better kinesthetically. The plan was to visit our local pond to provide a real-life example of what we were learning. Then, it began to pour. Torrential downpour, to be exact.

Most teachers would have decided that the lesson would be best kept for another day. Mr. Nichol is not most teachers. He realized the unique opportunity in front of him; he could now show us the water table rising before our very eyes. As a class, we ventured into the woods, being pelted with thick droplets of rain, and learning the entire time. Not only did we get to see an empty storm drain become gushing and full, we bonded as students and learners.

For me, the sciences have never been my strong suit. The most I ever learned in a science classroom was when we identified rocks by their streaks and hardness because I was able to work with my hands. Somehow,  I remember everything from that day with Rivers out in the woods, including what we learned in the classroom, because the examples I saw in the field tied it all together, and made the information easier to grasp. I know it is asking a bit much of teachers to see pouring rain and think, “Hey, now seems like a great time for a walk and bring the whole class outside for the rest of the day”… but having a brain wired for language, I had been previously convinced that the half of my brain that absorbs formulas, the periodic table and all things math and science really, was just completely dark, with the occasional tumbleweed.

Rivers, its new approach to teaching, its devoted faculty, its unwavering belief in its students potential, has made my brain, my whole brain, finally light up.

Thank you, Willa


©2019 by Rivers and Revolutions.